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Columbia programme running ahead of contract schedule, GD CEO says

General Dynamics says the Columbia-class lead submarine is running ahead of contract schedule. (US Navy)

Amid government oversight concerns about lead-ship construction delays of the new Columbia-class strategic ballistic missile submarines, the programme is actually running ahead of contract schedule, according to Phebe Novakovic, chairman and chief executive officer of General Dynamics, whose submarine-building Electric Boat (EB) unit is building the boats.

“We're about 30% done on the first ship and we are ahead of the contract schedule,” Novakovic said on 25 January during an earnings call with financial analysts.

Two US shipbuilders – Electric Boat and HII's Newport News Shipbuilding – design and build the nuclear submarines. Electric Boat is the prime contractor for design and construction of the Columbia class, with Newport News serving as its major subcontractor.

The navy plans to acquire 12 Columbia-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines for about USD132 billion, while shipbuilders also build the Virginia-class boats.

“After more than a year of full-scale construction on the lead Columbia submarine, the shipbuilders are facing delays because of challenges with design, materials, and quality,” the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in its report Columbia Class Submarine Programme Lacks Essential Schedule Insight amid Continuing Construction Challenges, released on 24 January.

“The shipbuilders are working to mitigate delays using additional shipyard resources, such as more staff to complete work more quickly,” the GAO reported.

“The 14 current Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarines are now nearing the end of their service lives, with retirement planned to begin in Fiscal Year (FY) 2027,” the GAO pointed out. “To prevent a gap in a Department of Defense (DOD) requirement, the lead Columbia class submarine needs to be ready for its first patrol before October 2030.”

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