Cost of Trident Rocket Motors Jumps by 85 Percent

The cancellation of NASA's Constellation rocket program last year and the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet has contributed to significant cost spikes for the solid fuel rocket motors the Navy uses on its Trident sea launched ballistic missiles which are the only solid rockets in use today.

The cancellation of NASA’s Constellation rocket program last year and the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet has contributed to significant cost spikes for the solid fuel rocket motors the Navy uses on its Trident sea launched ballistic missiles which are the only solid rockets in use today.

The Navy has seen the cost of its Trident missile motors spike by roughly 85 percent for fiscal year 2012 over FY-11; the engines now cost $19.2 million versus $10.7 million apiece.

“If you look at it in terms of pure volume, NASA is about 70-plus percent of the solid rocket industry, we’re about 20 percent,” Rear Adm. Terry Benedict, the Navy’s chief of strategic systems, told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday. “It would take ten Trident motor, first, second and third-stages in order to make one solid rocket motor booster for the Shuttle. So, in pure volume, NASA’sĀ decisionĀ is one that causes the overhead [cost of building the motors] to be spread amongst the remaining programs.”

He went on to note that “we are the only strategic program of solid rocket motors that are currently in production so we are bearing that overhead shift.”

About 60 percent of the Trident motor cost spike is due to “overhead” increases, said Benedict.

The Navy is working with Lockheed and ATK, the two main supplies of solid rocket motors and parts, “as they try to develop not only a business plan but understand the larger plan for the” government’s future need for solid rocket motors.

The sea service and ATK have both streamlined workforces and overhead costs associated withe the Trident; the Navy expects to save about $10 million per year by reducing labor hours associated with the program, according to Benedict.

Meanwhile, the final version of the Pentagon’s report on the future of the solid rocket motor industrial base was approved by DoD acquisitions chief Ashton Carter yesterday, according to Benedict. That report is meant to give the Pentagon, NASA and solid rocket manufacturers to determine a way to keep that industry alive while keeping costs affordable in light of the current low demand for such motors.