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US Navy eyes using UUVs to protect Columbia submarines

1st March 2019 - 15:01 GMT | by Marc Selinger in Washington, DC

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The US Navy is examining how it could use unmanned undersea vehicles to protect its manned ballistic missile submarines, according to a key service official.

The navy’s undersea warfare division is working with the navy’s first UUV squadron, UUVRON-1, to develop operational concepts for that protection, said RADM John Tammen, the division’s director, who spoke on 26 February at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.

UUVRON-1, which the navy stood up in September 2017, is based at Naval Undersea Warfare Center Keyport in Washington state. 

Tammen noted that the navy currently fields small and medium-sized UUVs and is developing large and extra-large UUVs. In mid-February, the navy awarded a contract to Boeing to build the first four Orca XLUUVs

Bryan Clark, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said at the Heritage Foundation event that the navy will have to use UUVs to protect its ballistic missile submarines due to a looming shortfall of manned attack submarines.

In other comments, Tammen said the navy remains committed to buying 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines to replace its 14 ageing Ohio-class submarines (pictured). 

While declining to comment on the navy’s ongoing review of its fleet size, Tammen said ‘the security environment hasn’t changed’ since the Pentagon’s nuclear posture review endorsed acquiring ‘a minimum of 12’ Columbia subs over a year ago.

‘I think 12 is still a good number for now,’ Tammen said.

With Democrats having recently taken over the House, Clark expects Capitol Hill to debate why the navy needs 12 Columbia subs, each costing about $6 billion. He defended the current plan, saying it will give the navy the redundancy it requires.

Clark explained that only about seven of those submarines will be deployed at any one time because about five of them will be in port or undergoing maintenance. The navy will position an ‘alert’ sub in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, leaving two or three ‘spares’ for both the east and west coasts.

‘You want to have enough submarines that you can spread that risk out and reduce the benefits to an adversary of trying to go after your [ballistic missile submarines],’ Clark said.

Marc Selinger

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Marc Selinger


Marc is a freelance contributor to Shephard Media's news streams, with decades of experience writing …

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