ABOARD USS FLORIDA, At Sea (NNS) -- The waters off the coast of the Bahamas became a giant laboratory this week, as Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) tested the capabilities of the Navy's future guided-missile submarines (SSGNs).
NAVSEA and Commander, Naval Submarine Forces (COMNAVSUBFOR) sponsored Giant Shadow, the first limited objective experiment under the "Sea Trial" initiative of the Chief of Naval Operations' Sea Power 21 vision.
Giant Shadow, conducted with USS Florida (SSBN 728), is the first in a series of experiments before overhauling and converting four Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) to SSGNs.
The SSGN conversion program, spearheaded by NAVSEA, takes four SSBNs (Florida, USS Ohio (SSBN 726), USS Michigan (SSBN 727) and USS Georgia (SSBN 729)) selected for decommissioning and transforms them into new platforms with capabilities to fight in future conflicts.
"As a result of the Nuclear Posture Review, the President decided we needed 14, vice 18 Trident submarines," said Capt. William Toti of Assistant Chief of Staff for Warfare Requirements for COMNAVSUBFOR and the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander for Giant Shadow. "We decided we could take the four SSBNs we were going to decommission and instead use them in this new capacity. It is truly transformational."
The SSGNs will have the capability to support and launch up to 154 Tomahawk missiles, a significant increase in capacity as compared to other platforms. The 22 missile tubes will also provide the capability to carry other payloads, such as unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and special forces equipment.
This new platform will also have the capability to carry and support more than 66 Navy SEALs (Sea, Air and Land) and insert them clandestinely into potential conflict areas.
Giant Shadow explored how a network of forces, including Florida, special warfare forces, UUVs and UAVs, and various aerial, underwater and ground sensors could be used to provide surveillance, collect real-time intelligence, develop and recommend a course of action for the joint commander and launch a time-critical strike.
Elements of the experiment included an at-sea demonstration and validation launch of two Tomahawk missiles from Florida, the first-ever vertical launch of a UUV and an insertion of SEALs from Florida.
Giant Shadow also provided an opportunity to evaluate various technologies, such as nuclear-biological-chemical sensors, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and targeting systems.
"One of the goals of Giant Shadow is to identify which technologies provide real operational value to the warfighter, so we can transition them into real acquisition programs," said Toti.
Several Navy commands participated in Giant Shadow. USNS Mary Sears (T-AGS-65), Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command's oceanographic survey ship, was home for the command and control capabilities that will be put aboard the SSGN as part of the conversion process. Naval Air Systems Command's "Hairy Buffalo," a modified P-3C Orion aircraft, provided ISR capability and communication networking that would normally be provided by a high-altitude UAV like Global Hawk. Naval Oceanographic Office provided their UUV, the "Sea Horse," and elements of Naval Special Warfare Group Four supported the special warfare phases of the experiment.
Results of the experiment are still being evaluated.
"Today's battlefield is vastly different than it was during the Cold War," said Toti. "The SSGNs will provide an extremely powerful capability that can operate like a ghost - it's out there, but you can't see it - which will complicate the defense of anyone who wants to challenge the United States."
The SSGN conversions, which will include engineered refueling overhauls (ERO), will take place at Norfolk Naval Shipyard and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Wash., which began with Ohio in November 2002. Florida's ERO and conversion will begin in August.
The first SSGN is scheduled for delivery in 2007.
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