sary would be completely unaware that they’re there. If
necessary, because of the multimission nature of submarines, they can rapidly transition to a strike or attack
role if the situation dictates.
Is the submarine force able to match the
force-level requirements of the combatant
DONNELLY: The capacity of the force to meet all of the
combatant commander demands is a challenge. The fast-attack submarines I have today are meeting just under 60
percent of the combatant commander demand. We’re
satisfying the Strategic Command’s requirement for survivable strategic deterrent capability in our SSBN force
and we’re doing that quite well. The [Ohio-class] SSGN
has added another arrow to the quiver for Pacific
Command and Central Command. Those submarines
are getting a lot of wide use.
Are you continuing supporting Pacific operations with Atlantic-based submarines with Arctic transits?
DONNELLY: We’ve done that several times since I’ve had
command, but part of the effort to redistribute our SSNs
to put 60 percent in the Pacific was to position the submarine homeports where the greatest demand was. The
need for the Arctic transit has decreased, but we still
operate through the Arctic bringing boats from the
Pacific back to the Atlantic for shipyard availabilities and
surge them from the Atlantic to the Pacific when needed.
The Arctic Ocean is a very important ocean for us. This
month, we’ll be conducting another ICEX [Ice Exercise],
with two submarines operating under the ice for tactical
development and weapons testing. We’ll also support science with an ice camp north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.
What are the most challenging issues facing
the submarine force today?
DONNELLY: Just maintaining the operational excellence in the force and keeping my people focused on the
safe and effective operation of the submarines. Our submarines operate in a very harsh and unforgiving environment that requires constant vigilance by our crews
and our command teams. I work hard to make sure that
they’re on top of their game all the time. We have invested heavily in state-of-the-art trainers for our tactical,
propulsion and navigation systems to ensure that our
crews maintain their operational edge at all times.
How will the new multiyear contract for the
Virginia-class SSN affect your force levels?
DONNELLY: The Virginia is a magnificent ship. We have
five in commission today, six more under construction
and seven more that will follow under that contract. The
Vice Adm. Jay Donnelly, commander, Submarine Force,
looks over the frozen Arctic Ocean from the bridge of
attack submarine USS Alexandria after the sub surfaced
through 2 feet of ice during ICEX-07 in March 2007.
force levels are going to stay about where they are
because, as we build the Virginia class, we’ll be retiring
some of the older Los Angeles-class submarines.
Today, I have 52 SSNs. That number will slowly decrease over time to 48, the minimum requirement to meet
the obligations of the fast-attack submarine force. This latest contract for the Virginia class accelerates the construction rate to two per year starting in 2011, and that will
really help us to maintain our force levels, but from 2022
to 2033 we’re going to drop below that 48 number, when
force levels are smaller than the validated requirements.
What is the plan to develop a replacement for
the Ohio-class SSBN?
DONNELLY: In February, we commemorated the 1,000th
patrol of the Ohio-class SSBN. Since SSBNs came on line
48 years ago, we’ve completed more than 3,800 strategic
patrols. That is the ultimate insurance policy for the nation. The strategic deterrence they provide protects our
country and is just as important today as it was during the
Cold War. The 14-ship Ohio SSBN class will begin to reach
the end of its life in 2027 at a rate of about one per year.
We currently are engaged in analyses of alternatives to determine what the follow-on replacement to the Ohio class
should be. We have started now on the conceptual design
work to determine what that next platform would be.
Is the Navy working with the U.K. Royal Navy
on future submarine-launched ballistic-missile
DONNELLY: We have already had agreements in place for
the [Trident] D5 Life-Extension Missile, which is carried
by both nations’ SSBNs. That missile’s life extends way