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Prototyping keeps Columbia submarine programme on track, USN officials say

US Navy officials say land-based prototype testing is helping keep the Columbia-class submarine system on track. (US Navy)

Land-based prototyping has helped keep the Columbia-class strategic missile submarine programme on track for development and delivery, according to US Navy (USN) submarine officials.

“Nearly everything on the ship” has been tried or tested either through prototyping or installation on the Virginia-class attack submarines, Rear Admiral Douglas Perry, US Navy (USN) director of Undersea Warfare, said on 1 November during a media briefing at the Naval Submarine League 2022 Annual Symposium.

“The pumps and motors – we've been installing them on the Virginia class for a decade,” Rear Adm Perry said. “The electric drive – it's been running [as a prototype system]. Everything that is going on Columbia , most of that, has already been in operations.”

Rear Admiral Scott Pappano, programme executive officer of USN Strategic Submarines, agreed. “That's been very much part of the strategy,” he said during the symposium briefing.

Pappano said that the USN had planned to start building lead submarine USS Columbia – later renamed District of Columbia – in 2019, but the work was delayed by two years because of the impacts of sequestration during the earlier decades. The service opted to rely more on land-based prototyping to mitigate risk, he added.

That kind of prototyping helped the navy identify issues – such as the missile-tube-welding faults found in 2017, he said. “We found problems and came through those problems. Now we're delivering all of those tubes.”

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