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Our History


The origin of today's Strategic Systems Programs (SSP) dates back to November 1955 when President Dwight Eisenhower directed Secretary of the Navy Charles Thomas to establish the Special Projects Office (SPO) to develop, design and test the first-ever fleet ballistic missile.

Appointed on November 8, 1955 as Director of Special Projects, Rear Adm. William 'Red' Raborn was tasked with the unprecedented challenge of delivering the first submarine-launched ballistic missile system.

SPO had total responsibility for the program including the weapon system, the platform on which it deployed, and the supporting ashore and afloat infrastructure. Although initially limited to 50 people, Admiral Raborn's program was given unprecedented exemption from the usual Navy bureaucracy.

On July 20, 1960, off the coast of Cape Canaveral, two Polaris A1 missiles successfully took flight from the submerged ballistic missile submarine USS George Washington (SSBN 598) - the Navy's first ballistic missile submarine. The Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) program was on time, on budget, and on target.

Within the next five years, two improved versions of the missile were developed and deployed: Polaris (A2) and Polaris (A3). Subsequently, the Poseidon (C3) and Trident I (C4) and Trident II (D5) missiles were developed and deployed over the next two decades. Originally, 41 ballistic missile submarines were constructed to carry the Polaris missile, and then refitted to carry the Poseidon and Trident I missiles. Starting in 1981, these submarines were replaced by the Ohio-class submarines that carried the Trident I (C4) and Trident II (D5) missiles. Today, the Columbia-class submarine is being constructed to carry the Trident II (D5 LE), which is being deployed to the fleet now, and - eventually - Trident II D5 (LE2) missiles.

The accomplishments of the FBM program and its engineering team members is heralded for its extraordinary achievements in program management leadership and unprecedented engineering achievements.

In 1963, the United States and the United Kingdom entered into an agreement under which the United States would sell the Polaris weapon system to the United Kingdom. The Polaris Sales Agreement provided the framework for the acquisition and support for the United Kingdom's sea-based strategic deterrent. SPO was designated as the United States Project Officer, directly responsible to the Secretary of the Navy. This agreement was reaffirmed in 1982, when the United States agreed to provide the United Kingdom with the Trident II weapon system under the same terms as the Polaris Sales Agreement. Today, like the United States, the United Kingdom is constructing the Dreadnought-class of submarines to carry the Trident II missile.

In 1968, SPO became the Strategic Systems Project Office. The organization evolved again in 1984 to become the Strategic Systems Program Office, and in 1987 became the Strategic Systems Programs (SSP) of today.

SSP's demonstrated ability to move quickly in deploying the most advanced technologies in a tight time frame led to the organization taking on a new portfolio in 2018: conventional hypersonic weapons. The Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research Development and Acquisition established SSP's Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) program office in the Fall of 2018. This office is developing a non-nuclear hypersonic weapon system, in coordination with the U.S. Army. While CPS missiles will not carry nuclear warheads, SSP's extensive experience with hypersonic technology, underwater launch capability, and leadership experience coordinating with industry and academia make SSP the ideal lead agent for the Navy's CPS program.

Concurrently, SSP's fleet ballistic missile system continues to serve our nation. Since November 15, 1960, when USS George Washington (SSBN 598) departed on the first strategic deterrent patrol, the crews of the original '41 For Freedom' submarines and the 18 Ohio-class submarines have collectively conducted more than 4,000 deterrent patrols. The Polaris, Poseidon, and Trident missiles carried by those submarines have provided our nation with a deterrent and a survivable response to aggression. Looking to the future, SSP is readying the Trident II missile for the Columbia-class submarines using modern technologies and tools not dreamed of during the 1950s. The men and women of SSP remain committed to supporting the mission and updating and maintaining the Trident II missile system, which provides approximately 70 percent of our nation's deployed nuclear deterrent triad.

SSP continues to deliver. Whether the next generation of sea-launched nuclear deterrent, or cutting edge conventional hypersonic technologies, the men and women of SSP are ready for another 65 years of credibly deterring threats to our nation and our allies and partners.

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