U.S. Navy Paying More for Solid Rocket Motors

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The U.S. Navy next year will pay 85 percent more for the solid rocket motors that power its Trident 2 D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles in part due to the cancellation of NASA’s Constellation program, a Navy official told lawmakers April 6.

The Trident 2 D5 is the only U.S. strategic missile currently in production, and the price per rocket motor will increase from $10.7 million this year to $19.2 million in 2012, Rear Adm. Terry Benedict, the Navy’s chief of strategic systems, said during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee.

By volume, NASA has historically accounted for about 70 percent of the United States’ total volume of solid rocket motor production, Benedict said. With the space shuttle set to retire this year and no assurance there will be a follow-on program, the Defense Department is bearing the burden of supporting the entire industrial base, he said.

The centerpiece of NASA’s marked-for-cancellation Constellation program is a family of rockets, called Ares, that would use larger versions of the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters. While the administration of President Barack Obama has proposed shutting down the Ares program, Congress enacted legislation last year directing NASA to build a heavy-lift rocket that would incorporate Ares and shuttle technology. NASA, however, has said it cannot afford to build such a rocket.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, Ashton Carter, signed off April 5 on a final report on the future of the solid rocket motor industrial base, Benedict said. An interim version of the report released in July mentioned a number of ideas for sustaining the U.S. industrial base but also said manufacturing capacity must be reduced.