17 March 2017
Photonics Mast production for the Virginia class and other submarines has continued ever since, with many upgrades, and will continue for at least another decade. Substantial upgrade and support funding will also continue indefinitely for these many important programs, including for continuing new programs and upgrade availability – which we forecast with our somewhat catch-all Future Submarine Mast Electronics lines (see report) – with available funding to be worth almost $200 million annually, next decade.
The other new future program we’ve added is Future Submarine Next Generation Architecture (NGA) EW Suite (currently designated the AN/BLQ-10B) system. We are including evaluation and forecasts of classified funding for this future system, which is to include simultaneous transmit and receive apertures, improved antenna sensors, high bandwidth digitizers, high speed networking, large capacity data storage and retrieval, and advanced algorithms for improved system performance and new capability.
The AN/BLQ-10(V) ES (Electronic Support) System (was New Attack Submarine ESM [Electronic Support Measures] System, was ASTECS [Advanced Submarine Tactical ESM Combat System]) is the submarine ESM Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) system produced for the Virginia (SSN-774), Los Angeles (SSN-688), and Seawolf (SSN-21) class attack submarines, and now also for the Ohio (SSBN-726) class Trident missile submarines. It provides a broader ESM function than both the earlier AN/WLR-8 radar warning receiver on the Los Angeles class and the AN/WLQ-4(V)1 ESM system on the Seawolf class.
The BLQ-10 was developed as a part of the New Attack Submarine C3I System (NSSN C3I). Following a $32.6 million limited production contract in late 1999, Milestone III was reached in December 2000, with the first operational deployment completed on board the USS Annapolis (SSN-760) in 2000. The first production shipset was backfit aboard the USS Tucson (SSN-770) in 2001. More recently, the Ohio (SSBN-726) class Trident missile submarines have also been receiving the BLQ-10.
In early 2000, the Joint Chiefs of Staff issued a study recommending at least 68 fast attack submarines as necessary to meet critical operational requirements in 2015. This was above the 50 subs used as a baseline since the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review. Reports indicated the primary rationale for the upped requirement was the need for SIGINT and other special operations. Pacific and Atlantic fleet commanders further testified in June 2000 that at least 75 subs would be needed to meet future requirements for surveillance, reconnaissance, forward presence and exercises with allies. The core of these requirements is now met with Lockheed Martin’s billion dollar BLQ-10.
Following more than a decade of procurements, BLQ-10 production for upgrading older subs may soon end – public Navy budgets show a drastic upgrade procurement funding drop after FY20 – but production for the Virginia class will continue for at least another decade.
And, in December 2016 following the election of Donald Trump as President, the US Navy raised its own projections of how many Virginia class attack submarines it needs, from today’s 48 to 66 total subs. For the moment, our new-production forecast continues for Virginia class subs at a rate of two per year, but this could increase to three if the Navy gets the extra subs it now again wants.
Substantial BLQ-10 upgrade and support funding will also continue indefinitely for this important, if sometimes classified and opaque, program. Our forecasts are speculative (Military Electronics Briefing).
Future NGA Submarine EW Suite
The FY17 US Navy budget in February 2016 provided an unusual amount of detail regarding current and future BLQ-10 and submarine EW programs. Electronic Warfare (EW) was raised to a submarine primary mission area in FY12 by the Commander Submarine Forces, and EW is now listed as the number one modernization requirement by the Submarine Tactical Requirements Group (STRG). Needs include integration of technology developed and transitioned from the Advanced Submarine Support Equipment Program (ASSEP) into tactical EW systems, interface and capability integration with Submarine Warfare Federated Tactical System Modernization efforts, and devel- opment of a Next Generation Architecture (NGA) BLQ-10 system.
Increased funding in FY17 over PB16 plans will support developing critical enabling technologies that will provide maximized electronic spectrum digitization and processing as well as Electronic Attack (EA) capability to the NGA BLQ-10. Specific NGA technology development focus areas include simultaneous transmit and receive apertures, improved antenna sensors, high bandwidth digitizers, high speed networking, large capacity data storage and retrieval, and advanced algorithms for improved system performance and new capability.
However, the current US Navy RDT&E funding plan does not allot anywhere near enough money for development of a major NGA BLQ-10. Teal Group is thus speculatively forecasting considerable additional funding to develop a new Future Submarine Next Generation Architecture (NGA) EW Suite (currently designated the AN/BLQ-10B) system – worth nearly a quarter billion dollars annually next decade. Since much BLQ-10 funding has always been classified, we presume the NGA BLQ-10 will be developed primarily with classified (and publicly unannounced) funds.
Lockheed Martin, Syracuse will most likely remain as prime contractor for development, but perhaps not, and in any case there will be many opportunities for technology subcontracting. The situation may remain classified. Our forecasts are highly speculative.