Electric Boat Group Imagines Future Submarines

By Jennifer McDermott

GROTON, Conn. (AP) – Nearly everyone at Electric Boat is focused on current submarine programs. Three people are not.

They are the concept formulation group, or in EB lingo, CONFORM. Their sole job is to figure out how today’s submarines can be made to do more and how future submarines should be made for what they may be called on to do.

“We’re the ones charged with maintaining that focus,” said John Biederka, director of the group.

This is the group that developed the early concept for a system of tubes that allows Los Angeles-class attack submarines to launch Tomahawk missiles vertically.

They came up with the idea for a module with missile tubes to boost firepower on the newest attack submarines, the Virginia class.

And they found a way to tweak the last submarine in the Seawolf class so it could be tasked with highly classified missions involving special forces and could test new systems.

Not all engineers enjoy concept development; they are used to knowing every detail of a particular task at hand. The three men of CONFORM – who, combined, have a century of experience at EB – are the most futuristic thinkers of the engineering force, the visionaries.

The core group of three – Biederka, Pat Bevins and Steve Menno – provides continuity, but they fan out across EB, Biederka said, to “bring the ideas of the whole company to bear.”

“We’ve got a huge resource of ideas here in the folks that are at Electric Boat,” Biederka said. CONFORM “allows those ideas to come together and get sorted out so we can find the good ones.”

Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, the chief of naval operations, said in a recent interview that the Navy has to dominate the undersea domain, to “own it,” and “to do that, the centerpiece of it is the submarine.”

Submarines of the future, he said, will have to be stealthy “of course” and “be able to net with other sensors, platforms and payloads.”

The military works across areas of warfare known as domains – air, land, sea, space and now cyberspace.

Submarines will have to operate across the domains, Greenert said. There is research into missiles that submarines could launch at aircraft, and submarines, using their antennas, could be an instrument in the cyber domain, he added.

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