Navy scientists to discuss history of sub-launched missiles

A Trident II D-5 ballistic missile launches from the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS West Virginia (SSBN 736) during a missile test at the Atlantic Missile Range on June 2, 2014.


By CATHY DYSON | The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va. | Published: June 12, 2018

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Before Navy submarines ever test-launched the first ballistic missile—a projectile that can deliver a nuclear warhead to a target several thousand miles away—scientists had to devise such a system.

On Wednesday, three of the people who lived through the process will discuss “the combination of knowledge, technical curiosity and leadership” that eventually led to the Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile program, said Alan Dean, historian and longtime scientist at Naval Support Facility Dahlgren.

He will be the moderator for a program offered by the Dahlgren Heritage Museum. It’s part of the year-long centennial festivities at the Navy base, which fired its projectile down the Potomac River on Oct. 16, 1918.

Wednesday’s event starts at 4:30 p.m. with a reception at the University of Mary Washington’s Dahlgren campus. The one-hour panel discussion begins at 5 p.m. and includes Ray Hughey, Shelia Young and Ralph Fallin, whose careers span the first 50 years of the program.

The program, called SLBM, started more than 60 years ago, and panelists will talk about the “unique synergy necessary to create, develop and deploy the SLBM weapon system of the past, present and future,” Dean said in a press release.

SLBM systems have provided a reliable, secure strategic deterrent for the nation since 1960, according to a story on the Navy News Service website in March 2016. That’s when congressional and military leaders gathered at Dahglren to break ground for a new $22 million building for more than 300 workers.

Navy officials described the lab as crucial to the top-priority SLBM program, which is responsible for 70 percent of the nation’s nuclear deterrent capability, according to the Navy story.

Capt. Brian Durant called it “another great milestone in the history of Dahlgren,” to which the Navy has looked for solutions from the beginning.

Dahlgren’s specialists have been designing the software for the Navy’s missile programs since the Strategic Systems Program was established in 1955, speakers said at the March 2016 ground-breaking.

First came the Polaris missile, built during the Cold War. Then came the Poseidon, powered by a two-stage, solid-fuel rocket. Trident 1 replaced the Poseidon and included a drone system, then was followed by Trident II, a missile with even greater payload, range and capacity.

Dahlgren will continue its role through the next generation of submarines as the Ohio class—nuclear-powered subs currently used by the Navy—are replaced, the speakers said.

Wednesday’s program will examine the SLBM story, “which was a foretelling of the entire story of the growing complexity of Navy combat systems,” Dean said. The event is free and open to the public.

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