Sea Platforms

Future US SSBNs cleared to proceed with detailed design phase

09 January 2017

Key Points

  • The Columbia-class SSBN has been established as a Program of Record that can begin development
  • Funds to procure the future Columbia class are available for the first time

The US Navy's (USN's) Ohio-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) replacement programme (ORP) has been approved to begin development, US officials said on 4 January 2017.

The future Columbia-class is intended to replace the US's ageing Ohio-class SSBNs (pictured). (USN)The future Columbia-class is intended to replace the US's ageing Ohio-class SSBNs (pictured). (USN)

Pentagon acquisition executive Frank Kendall signed a 'Milestone B' acquisition decision memorandum, which indicates that the potential USD128 billion ORP has entered the engineering and manufacturing development phase, making it officially a Program of Record with an approved baseline for cost, performance, and schedule. The ORP aims to replace the USN's 14 ageing Ohio-class boats with 12 future Columbia-class boats.

"In order to pass Milestone B, a programme must have validated requirements, independent cost estimates, full funding over the next five years, significant risk reduction justifying commitment to the programme, and an updated acquisition strategy," House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee ranking member Joe Courtney said in a statement. "In this phase, the detailed design and construction of the first Columbia-class boat will begin, and all systems and components of the submarine are integrated together." Courtney's congressional district in Connecticut includes General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB), the previously selected prime contractor. Huntington Ingalls Industries' Newport News Shipbuilding division is the primary subcontractor that will share work with GDEB.

For the first time, funding for the procurement of the Columbia class is available and has been placed in the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund (NSBDF), according to Courtney. The USD773 million NSBDF is a separate "anomaly" fund outside of the USN's regular shipbuilding account and includes cost reduction tools such as "incremental funding and continuous production of components like missile tubes" specific to the ORP.

The USN has said previously that delivering the Columbia-class design is a "top priority" and it wants to begin the build process in 2021.

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