Draper Lab eyes next generation of guidance systems for Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles

Dec. 6, 2022
Trident II D5 is It is the primary U.S. sea-based nuclear ballistic missile, and is deployed aboard U.S. Navy Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines.

WASHINGTON – Missile navigation experts at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., will maintain and sustain the inertial guidance system for the U.S. Navy submarine-launched Trident II (D5) nuclear missiles under terms of a $202.5 million order announced Thursday.

Officials of the Navy Strategic Systems Programs in Washington is asking Draper Lab to provide technical and engineering services to maintain and sustain the Trident II MK 6 submarine-launched ballistic missile, as well as investigate new approaches to designing the second life extension of the Navy's Trident II (D5) nuclear missile.

Draper Lab scientists also will investigate alternate strategic guidance, navigation, and control technologies for future submarine-launched ballistic missiles, support integration of the Trident II missile aboard next-generation nuclear missile submarines for the U.S. Navy and United Kingdom Royal Navy -- including support for reentry subsystem and Conventional Prompt Strike hypersonic missile development.

Draper Lab already provides design analysis, testing, procurement, and manufacturing of circuit card assemblies, interferometric fiber optic gyros, and accelerometers for upgrades to Trident II missile guidance systems.

Related: Draper Lab focuses on inertial guidance upgrades to Navy Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles

The company has overseen upgrades that involve the Trident ballistic missile inertial measurement units, electronic assemblies, electronic modules, and guidance system components. These upgrades are part of the missile's Strategic Systems Program Alteration (SPALT) of MK6 MOD I guidance systems.

Draper Lab also is designing a new boost guidance system for the Trident II missile to keep the nuclear weapon system operating through at least 2042. The company is replacing inertial measurement units, electronic assemblies, electronic modules and mission-critical flight and shipboard-test software for the Trident submarine fleet.

These new systems upgrades are to fit into the space within the missile used by the previous system, and Draper engineers modified radiation-hardened technologies to withstand the rigors of the strategic missile application.

Draper is using a modular design approach that allows simultaneous development of several solutions for higher-risk components, such as gyroscopes. Draper engineers have adapted commercial technologies such as fiber-optics for gyroscopes and magnetoresistive memory.

Related: Lockheed Martin to build Navy submarine-launched nuclear missiles with inertial and celestial guidance

The Lockheed Martin Space Systems segment in Titusville, Fla., integrates the Trident II D5 submarine-launched nuclear ballistic missile, which is one of the most advanced long-range submarine-launched nuclear missiles in the world. It is the primary U.S. sea-based nuclear ballistic missile, and is deployed aboard U.S. Navy Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines.

The U.S. Navy operates 14 of these ballistic missile submarines, each of which can carry as many as 24 Trident II missiles. Although the Trident II is designed to carry as many as 12 multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) warheads, current treaties reduce this number to four or five.

Each Trident II missile has a range of 4,000 to 7,000 miles, and its guidance subsystem uses a combination of inertial and celestial navigation. The Trident II D5 was first deployed in 1990 and is scheduled to remain in service until at least 2027.

The Navy started the D5 Life Extension Program in 2002 to replace obsolete components using as many commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) parts as possible to keep costs down and to enhance the missile's capability. Draper Lab is in charge of upgrading the Trident II's guidance system, and has been working on this project since 2005.

Related: Draper Lab to provide additional guidance systems for Trident submarine-launched ballistic nuclear missiles

In practice, the Trident II missile's inertial measurement system receives targeting data from computers aboard the submarine. The inertial measurement unit then transmits signals to the D5 flight-control computer and converts them into steering commands to keep the ballistic missile on target.

The missile's post-boost control system maneuvers the missile in flight to observe stars for the missile's celestial navigation subsystem, which updates the inertial system in flight.

Lockheed Martin also is integrating the Trident II onto the next-generation ballistic submarine designs of the U.S. and United Kingdom by adapting the Trident II missile and reentry subsystems into the common missile compartment for the future Columbia-class missile submarine and United Kingdom Dreadnought class missile boats.

The Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine is being designed to replace the Navy's fleet of Ohio-class submarines. The future United Kingdom Dreadnought submarine, meanwhile, will replace the Royal Navy's fleet of Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines.

Related: Navy invests in submarine-launched nuclear ballistic missile guidance upgrades and test

The U.S. Navy today operates 18 Ohio-class submarines -- 14 of which carry the Trident nuclear missile. Four Ohio-class subs have been modified to carry conventionally armed long-range cruise missiles.

The Ohio-class submarine has been in commission since 1981, and this class is scheduled to be decommissioned and replaced starting in 2029. The United Kingdom Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarine has been at sea since 1993. The Royal Navy operates four Vanguard-class subs.

On this order Draper Lab will do the work in Cambridge, Mass., and in El Segundo, Calif., and should be finished by November 2024. For more information contact Draper Lab online at www.draper.com, or the Navy Strategic Systems Programs office at www.ssp.navy.mil.

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