Columbia-Class SSBN-X Ohio Replacement
Ohio Replacement Program (ORP)
Future Follow-on Submarine
The Department of Defense (DoD) assumes the continued requirement of a sea-based strategic nuclear deterrent. Therefore, the timeframe of when the next-generation SSBN will need to be deployed is about 2029, when the first of the remaining operational Ohio-class SSBNs is planned to be retired. The Navy is currently studying two options for future follow-on SSBNs: (1) a variant of the Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines (SSN); or (2) a dedicated SSBN (either a new design or a derivative of the Ohio-class SSBN). If the decision were made to develop a new dedicated SSBN, the new hull design would have to be completed no later than 2016 to ensure that a new platform is available in 2029. The decision to move forward on the project was endorsed by the Defense Acquisition Board in December 2009. ‘Milestone A’ was reached on January 10, 2011, at which point a recommendation was made and approval was sought regarding starting or continuing the acquisition program.
The Columbia class will reportedly tip the scales at over 23,000 tons, almost triple that of early-model Virginia-class SSNs now in service. A new class of ballistic missile submarines to replace the existing submarines might be needed around 2029, when the first of the Ohio-class retires from the fleet after an extended service life of 43 years. The research, design, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) phase of the new vessels began in 2010, though DoD research into a replacement ship began as early as 2007. The detailed design phase, including the advanced procurement of critical components, is to begin in 2015. A 7-year construction period would follow that, beginning in 2019. After a 3-year strategic certification starting in 2026, the lead ship (the first of a planned 12) would enter service in 2029.
Procurement for ships 2 to 12 was to begin between 2022 and 2033 and would enter service between 2030 and 2040. An alternative procurement schedule was developed in case of budget cuts or unforeseen circumstances. It would involve the initial ship procurement being moved to 2017, though funding it as though it were 2019. The tail end of the procurement cycle would then be pushed back by 2 years to 2035. The Cato Institute, in a report released in September 2010, recommended six, not 12 ships be built. Downsizing the fleet had to do with both costs as well as the ability of the six ships to fulfill the role that 12 would play. The Navy responded that the report would be taken into consideration, but implementation depended wholly on the perceived threats at that point in production.
Research and Development of the SSBN-X, not including 2010 expenditures, was estimated to be around $11.6 billion; total R&D costs are expected to reach $15 billion. The first boat will cost roughly $6-$7 billion, with ships 2-12 costing about $5.6 billion per ship. The Navy has put in place a price reduction goal of $4.9 billion per ship, but as of 2010, were $700 million short of the target. The Common Missile Compartment (CMC) project that the US and UK are working on in tandem has cost the UK $329 million since 2008 and the US $183 since 2009 (as of 2011).
It was initially unknown where the ships will be built. The Navy offered five potential solutions in its statement to Congress:
- build all SSBN-Xs at General Dynamics / Electric Boat Division (GD/EB)
- build all SSBN-Xs at Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS)
- build some SSBN-Xs at GD/EB and some at NNS
- build each SSBN-X jointly at GD/EB and NNS, with final assembly of the boats alternating between the yards
- build each SSBN-X jointly at GD/EB and NNS, with one yard - either GD/EB or NNS - performing final assembly on every boat
While the submarine-building contract is likely to be sought after and competitively bid on by several qualified candidates, General Dynamics Electric Boat is the most likely choice. GD/EB designed and built the current Ohio-class SSBN fleet completely on its own. A similar construction location issue stood with the construction of the CMC project. If the compartments were built in America, costs would be significantly reduced for both the US and the UK. However, the UK may wish to build them in Britain so as to maintain employment levels at their shipyards. On January 6, 2011, GD/EB was given a $152 million contract for continued engineering, technical services, conceptual studies, and design of a potential CMC and related, necessary projects.
The Ohio Replacement Program will serve as the backbone of the nation's nuclear deterrence into the 2080s. The Ohio Replacement SSBN Program is tasked with recapitalizing the nation's sea-based strategic deterrent in a cost-effective manner. The Navy planned to replace its current fleet of 14 Ohio-class SSBNs with only 12 Ohio Replacement SSBNs.
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