US Navy submarine branch focuses on developing Project Overmatch

by Tommy Grant

WASHINGTON — A reorganization of the Navy’s undersea warfare community two years ago has sharpened its focus on developing more modern warfighting tools, including a network of communications systems that will support joint all-domain operations, a top leader said.

The reorganization allowed the attack submarine and ballistic missile submarine communities to each look at new construction and sustainment of existing boats in one breath, versus treating them as separate endeavors. It also created a third program executive office, PEO Undersea Warfare Systems, to look at the networks, combat systems, weapons and more that would enable the submarine fleet.

The moves helped accelerate the undersea portion of the Navy’s Project Overmatch, according to Jay Stefany, the service’s acting assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition. Project Overmatch is the Navy’s contribution to the Pentagon’s Joint All-Domain Command and Control vision, which would provide multiple secure ways to communicate between ships, aircraft, unmanned systems and ground stations during military campaigns.

Still, the features developed under the initiative remain a work in progress. The first carrier strike group to deploy with Project Overmatch capabilities, the Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group that deployed to the Pacific earlier this month, does not have this undersea capability, Stefany said. “But the next one will,” he told Defense News in an Oct. 23 interview.

“It’s in the works. It may not have been as much in works if we hadn’t consolidated” all the undersea support functions within a single PEO, he said. “So I think it’s exciting as we march our way down from a minimum viable product to a bigger, more full-up Project Overmatch.”

Stefany said the new PEO was collaborating with the PEO for Integrated Warfare Systems, which manages surface ship combat systems, to participate in efforts to achieve “more modern software delivery, automated testing and ultimately over-the-air software updates” to surface ships and submarines.

The new office has also created a stronger “production mindset” for the Mk 48 and Mk 54 torpedo programs, which Stefany said had gotten off track.

The organizational changes two years ago also have ushered in a greater awareness of the need to synchronize submarine construction and maintenance plans, he said.

Submarine maintenance and modernization had previously been managed under a different flag officer than submarine construction in both the attack-submarine and the ballistic missile-submarine communities. The reorganization allows the latter faction to work the delicate transition of sustaining existing Ohio-class boats until the new Columbia-class boats come online, something Stefany said is going well today.

Stefany said the reorganization provides the attack submarine community a chance to reform submarine sustainment efforts, which have suffered in recent years from lack of parts and delays at repair yards. Even as leaders still work through these issues, Stefany said there’s more work to do to bring a new mentality to sustainment work.

The Navy is executing its Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program to overhaul and modernize the public yards. Once the facilities themselves are improved, Stefany said the Navy would look to overhaul the process by which submarine work is scheduled, planned and executed at the yards, to make it more akin to a contract at a private yard that includes cost and schedule incentives.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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