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Pentagon budget 2023: US Navy nuclear-powered fleet drives ship procurement costs

Gerald R Ford-class carriers account for 9% of Fiscal Year 2023 budget request for shipbuilding costs. (Michael Fabey)

Nuclear-powered shipbuilding programmes account for more than half of the shipbuilding account in the US Navy (USN) fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget request, according to documents released 28 March.

Of the USD27.9 billion being requested for shipbuilding in FY 2023, about 56% is being slated for aircraft carrier and submarine programmes.

About USD7.3 billion, or 24%, is being requested for two Virginia-class submarines, with another USD6.3 billion, or 21%, being requested for Columbia-class strategic submarine work.

About USD3.2 billion, or 9%, is being requested for Gerald R Ford-class aircraft carrier ships, and another USD618 million, or 2%, being requested for refuelling for a Nimitz-class carrier.

Despite the significant percentage of funding slated for the nuclear-powered shipbuilding projects, the navy is only procuring two vessels – the Virginia-class submarines – during the fiscal year, Rear Admiral John Gumbleton, deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Budget, noted during a media briefing the same day.

The situation underscores the pressure on the USN to complete Columbia on time, he said. The ships are slated to replace Ohio-class submarines in strategic-missile patrol at the start of the coming decade.

As recent events have shown – including the invasion of Ukraine and fears about Russian use of nuclear weapons – nuclear deterrence is becoming increasingly importance, noted Rear Adm Gumbleton. β€œThe Columbia class is the most survivable leg of [the US] nuclear triad,” he said. β€œThis budget requests in the entirety of that leg.”

The naval nuclear leg includes the submarine, missile, and communications system. The USN is investing about USD8.5 billion β€œin that one mission set”, he noted.

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