The Buzz

Why America's New Columbia-Class Submarine Could Be a Game-Changer

Electric Boat and the Navy are already progressing on early prototype work connecting missile tubes to portions of the hull, officials said.  Called integrated tube and hull forging, the effort is designed to weld parts of the boat together and assess the ability to manufacture key parts of the submarine before final integration.

In 2012, General Dynamics Electric Boat was awarded a five-year research and development deal for the Ohio Replacement submarines with a value up to $1.85 billion.  The contract contains specific incentives for lowering cost and increasing manufacturing efficiency, Navy and Electric Boat officials said. 

The Navy has recently advanced development of a new class of nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines to be used as undersea strategic deterrents -- by signing a deal to being the manufacture of 17 new tactical missile tubes able to fire nuclear-armed Trident II D5 missiles. 

A 95-million modification to a Naval Sea Systems Command deal with Electric Boat, a subsidiary of General Dynamics, is a key part of the Navy's broader deterrence strategy to ensure a second-strike nuclear ability from beneath the ocean around the world in the event of a catastrophic first-strike on the continental US. 

The effort, which has been preceded by "tube and hull" forging work underway for several years, is part of a collaborative US-UK Common Missile Compartment program.

The US and UK are together immersed in a common missile compartment effort.  In fact, the US and UK have been buying parts together for the common missile compartment and working on a $770 million contract with General Dynamics’ Electric Boat. This recent contract modification includes foreign military sales to the United Kingdom. Work will be performed in Quonset Point, Rhode Island, and is expected to be completed by December 2023. United Kingdom foreign military sales funding in the amount of $22,957,933 will be obligated at the time of award, a Pentagon statement said. 

The US plans to build 12 new Columbia-Class Submarines, each with 16 missile tubes, and the UK plans to build four nuclear-armed ballistic submarines, each with 12 missile tubes. 

Earlier this year, ship specifications for the new Columbia-Class submarines were completed and the program is now in detailed design phase and initial production contract, service officials said.

In acquisition terms, development of the new submarines have passed what's termed "Milestone B," clearing the way beyond early development toward ultimate production. Production decisions are known as "Milestone C."

"The program was approved to proceed to Milestone B Jan. 4, authorizing it to enter into the engineering and manufacturing development phase and permitting the transition from preliminary design to detail design,"  William Couch, spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command, told Scout Warrior earlier this year. 

Ultimately, the Navy hopes to build and operate as many as 12 new nuclear-armed submarines, to be in service by the early 2040s and serve well into the 2080s. 

The Navy has begun early construction and prototyping on a new class of nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines designed to help ensure global peace by deploying massive destructive power under the sea.

The Ohio Replacement Program, a so-called SSBN, is scheduled to begin construction by 2021. Requirements work, technical specifications and early prototyping have already been underway at General Dynamics Electric Boat.

Designed to be 560-feet– long and house 16 Trident II D5 missiles fired from 44-foot-long missile tubes, ORP will be engineered as a stealthy, high-tech nuclear deterrent able to quietly patrol the global undersea domain. 

The new submarines are being designed for 42 years of service life.

Construction on the first submarine in this new class is slated to be finished up by 2028, with initial combat patrols beginning in 2031, service officials said. 

Strategic Nuclear Deterrence: 

Detailed design for the first Columbia-Class submarine is happening now. The new submarines are being engineered to quietly patrol the undersea domain and function as a crucial strategic deterrent, assuring a second strike or retaliatory nuclear capability in the event of nuclear attack.

The Navy is only building 12 Columbia-Class submarines to replace 14 existing Ohio-class nuclear-armed boats because the new submarines are being built with an improved nuclear core reactor that will better sustain the submarines, Navy officials have said.

As a result, the Columbia-Class submarines will be able to serve a greater number of deployments than the ships they are replacing and not need a mid-life refueling in order to complete 42 years of service.

With the life of ship reactor core, there is not a need for mid-life refueling, Navy developers explained.

By engineering a "life-of-ship" reactor core, the service is able to build 12 SSBNs able to have the same at sea presence as the current fleet of 14 ballistic missile submarines. The plan is intended to save the program 40 billion savings in acquisition and life-cycle cost, Navy developers said. 

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