Draper Lab to upgrade inertial guidance units on Trident submarine-launched nuclear missile systems

March 2, 2018
WASHINGTON – U.S. Navy strategic weapons experts are improving the accuracy of the nation's fleet of submarine-launched ballistic missiles with the latest upgrades to the Trident (D5) nuclear missile guidance systems.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Navy strategic weapons experts are improving the accuracy of the nation's fleet of submarine-launched ballistic missiles with the latest upgrades to the Trident (D5) nuclear missileguidance systems.

Officials of the Navy Strategic Systems Program office in Washington announced a potential $132.9 million order Wednesday to the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., for Trident (D5) MK 6 guidance system production.

Wednesday's order -- a modification to a $53.5 million contract awarded to Draper in January 2017 -- includes failure verification, test, repair, and recertification of Trident MK 6 guidance system inertial measurement units (IMUs), electronic assemblies, and electronic modules.

The Navy's Trident II D5 nuclear missiles are designed for launch from Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, as well as from the Navy's future Columbia-class submarine. The Columbia-class submarine program, which will replace the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, will begin construction in 2021 and enter service in 2031. From there, the submarine class will serve through 2085.

Related: U.S. nuclear weapons modernization continues; Lockheed Martin to build submarine ballistic missiles

The Trident II nuclear-tipped ballistic missile has a range of more than 7,000 miles and carries four independently targeted 475-kiloton nuclear warheads.

The Trident missile's MK 6 guidance system consists of an electronics assembly with the system's flight computers, and an IMU with the system's inertial sensors. The electronics assembly interfaces with the submarine's fire-control system and the missile's flight-control electronics assembly. The IMU, meanwhile, senses the motion of the missile and provides navigation information to the mission computer.

Trident missiles are aboard 14 Navy Ohio-class submarines and four British Royal Navy Vanguard-class submarines. Each Ohio-class submarine can carry as many as 24 Trident atomic missiles. These vessels together carry about half of all U.S. strategic thermonuclear warheads.

The Draper Lab contract is part of a Navy effort begun in 2002 to extend the life of the D5 missiles to the year 2040 by replacing obsolete components with commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware. Upgrades involved the missile reentry systems and guidance systems.

Related: Nuclear ballistic missile command and control technology still a prime military concern

The first flight test of a D5 extended-life subsystem, the MK 6 Mod 1 guidance system, was in early 2012 aboard the ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee (SSBN 734).

The Trident nuclear missile has a maximum speed of 13,000 miles per hour, and has precision guidance from inertial sensors with star sighting. No GPS-guided Trident D5 missiles have been deployed.

The Trident II missile warhead discharges the energy of 475,000 tons of TNT, and is roughly 30 times the size of the U.S. nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.

On this order Draper Lab will do the work in Minneapolis; Pittsfield and Cambridge, Mass.; and Clearwater, Fla., and should be finished by January 2021. For more information contact Draper Lab online at www.draper.com, or the Navy Strategic Systems Programs Office at www.ssp.navy.mil.

Ready to make a purchase? Search the Military & Aerospace Electronics Buyer's Guide for companies, new products, press releases, and videos

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Military Aerospace, create an account today!