Electronic Weapons: Getting The Nukes To Communicate

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April 28, 2012: The U.S. Navy is spending $22 million to try and find ways to build some commonality into the electronic systems of its SSNs (nuclear attack submarines). Currently, each class of SSNs has different electronics systems. While there is some commonality there are a lot of differences. The navy currently has five classes of attack subs. The oldest are the Los Angeles (SSN 688) class, followed by the improved SSN 688, the Seawolf (SSN 21) class, the Ohio (SSGN 726) class cruise missile submarine, and the Virginia (SSN 774) class. The four SSGNs are recently converted SSBNs (ballistic missile carrying subs). There are only three SSN 21s, as work on this class was halted because these boats were too expensive.  While many of the Seawolf technology ended up in the smaller and cheaper Virginias, the two classes still ended up with notably different electronic systems.

Another problem with submarine electronics systems is that they are not built with network based warfare in mind. While surface ships have, for the last two decades, been increasing their ability to quickly and automatically share information with other ships and aircraft, subs have, because of their stealthy and isolated (underwater) operating environment, stayed out this move towards connectivity and networking. But now submarines can send and receive information (slowly and in small quantities) while submerged and that means subs can become much more effective by getting onto the net and becoming more tightly coordinated with the rest of the naval operation it is a part of.

The new architecture for SSN electronics will also make it easier to upgrade equipment and reduce the training time for sailors transferred from one class of subs to another.

 

 


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