Keeping Kings Bay on their minds at fly-ins

By Sheila McNeill
Tribune & Georgian. Februay 2, 2017

Kings Bay remains a critical part of the nation’s nuclear deterrence. With the New START Treaty our submarines will have 70 percent of the nuclear deterrents with the Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missiles and bombers making up the other 30 percent.

The Georgia House established a BRAC (Base Closure and Realignment) committee a few months ago. That committee has evolved into a state committee on military Issues. I am pleased to see the state begin to look at the value of military installations and what the state can do to improve those bases and the support of our military men and women stationed in Georgia.

We don’t think the base is going to go away. There is nowhere else to base these submarines and Kings Bay, which is more than 30 years old, needs new roofs and some infrastructure upgrades but it is one of the newest, if not the newest, base in the Navy.

Our biggest challenge has been and will continue to be the replacement of these Ohio class strategic submarines. They were built for 30 years and have been extended to 42 years — their lifespan is running out. The replacement of these boats was delayed and now the time is critical. New boats must be built before the older boats have reached their lifetime of service.

Design and engineering for the replacement of these submarines has been a funding issue for many years and The Camden Partnership has taken this issue to our congressional leaders. We just read the press release from Congressman Buddy Carter concerning his effort in support of the Ohio Replacement Program. Our senators have strongly supported this funding as well. We were excited to learn that Sen. David Perdue will serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee, a very influential committee. As our senior legislator, Sen. Johnny Isakson has been supporting the program for years. His chairmanship of the veterans’ committee is a real asset to our community, the state and our country.

The Ohio Replacement Program has received funding each year. Electric Boat is now in the next stage of the building of the Ohio replacement. The class of the new boats will be called Columbia and the first ship will be named the USS Columbia. The Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program passed its Milestone B decision review and can now move into detailed design. This good news was recently announced by the Pentagon procurement chief Frank Kendall.

The Columbia class has been a strong program on Capitol Hill. The program received an exception to the continuing resolution that fully funded what is needed for this year.

Discussion has been going on for a number of years to have a separate line item in the defense budget for the replacement of these strategic missile submarines. There were opinions that the line item should include all our nuclear deterrents: submarines, bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Updating our Air Force legs of the triad will be an important issue that the Congress will have to address.

A submarine building program of this magnitude will challenge Navy shipbuilding for the other classes of ships that are also in need of replacement.

This funding will be placed in the National Sea Based Deterrence Fund that was created a couple of years ago, but is now just being used. That is a big plus for the Navy. That special fund has been greatly debated as a way for the Navy to continue building other much-needed ships. In the last dozen or so years that I have been following our Navy’s “ask” the shipbuilding numbers have ranged from 309 to 325. It was recently reported that Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson said the Navy needed 355 ships. The Navy League’s Maritime Policy Committee has urged a higher number for years.

Of course, these ship numbers that have been goals of our service chiefs have had to be based on the defense budget and the administration’s support rather than the absolute need.

Shawn Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition recently said, “We’re on an irreversible path to 308 (ships) by 2021. Those ships are already in construction. To go from there to 355, virtually all those ships are currently in production, with some exceptions — Ohio replacement we just got done the Milestone B there (to move from R&D into detailed design) and then upgrades to existing platforms. So, we have hot production lines that will take us to the 355ship Navy.”

However, I do want to point out that the base was built for 12 submarines and we now have eight — six strategic missile and two guided missile submarines — and this number will decrease with the new submarines. Our total of 14 Tridents (eight at Bangor and six at Kings Bay) will go to 12. Our strategic submarines have gone from 41 to 18 to now 14 and those will be replaced with 12 boats. The reasoning behind the 12 boats is that they will not have to be refueled. Keeping them in service the entire 42 years rather than requiring a refueling that would take them out of service for two years is a big savings for our country.

The guided missile submarines which include the USS Georgia and Florida will also be retiring in the next 10 years. The nation will lose 60 percent of its strike capability when they are gone. We must replace that strike capability. And that is why we include in our papers to Congress, the Virginia Payload Model (VPM) paper. While the VPM will not have the strike capacity that the Georgia, Florida, Ohio and Michigan SSBNs have, they will replace some of that strike capability.

To maintain the number of submarines we now have at Kings Bay we must support the Navy on this new VPM concept and then convince the Navy to transfer some of those modified fast attack submarines to Kings Bay.

These points were shared with our legislative leaders in Atlanta on the chamber’s annual fly-in. They will also be included in our papers for our Washington, D.C. fly-in.

James Coughlin, executive director of the Joint Development Authority, and I also presented a paper on increased missions with an unusual request. We would like for the state to consider brand new missions as they would with a new company. That would allow state incentives to help us convince the services to bring missions to Georgia. Even a small amount of state support would show the military that Georgia wants them and that they recognize the value of our military personnel who make the decision to retire in Georgia.

The location of new missions at Georgia’s bases mean a significant impact to the local and state economy. We encourage the Georgia Department of Economic Development in partnership with its military-community based allies around the state to consider new mission growth at Georgia military bases as vital strategy to a comprehensive economic development effort.

We encourage the department and its allies to develop a creative investment/incentive approach that will help foster these mission growth opportunities thereby creating new jobs by pursuing economic development opportunities at Georgia’s military bases.

Our technical college issue was also covered. We have received the design and engineering funding and construction should follow. We continue to remind the governor that we remain the only military base in Georgia without a technical college yet the mission at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base is the No. 1 mission of the entire defense department.