The Columbia-class submarine is a new class of
United States Navy nuclear submarine
built to replace the existing Ohio-class SSBNs
The Columbia-class program's goal is to design and build a class of 12 new ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) to replace the Navy’s current force of 14 aging Ohio-class SSBNs. The Ohio-class submarines were designed to have a service life of 42 years (two 20-year cycles with a 2-year midlife nuclear refueling period). As the Ohio-class SSBNs were first deployed in 1981, they will start reaching the end of their service between 2027 and 2040, at a rate of about one boat per year. Starting in 2031, the Navy plans to replace each retiring Ohio-class boat with a new Columbia-class SSBN submarine.
The Navy has identified the Columbia-class program as its top priority program, and wants to procure the first Columbia-class boat in 2021. As the Navy’s top priority, the Columbia-class program will remain funded even at the expense of funding other Navy programs.
The Columbia-Class Submarine will be larger than the Ohio-class design in terms of submerged displacement, and therefore will be the largest submarine ever built by the United States. The Navy has also planned the Columbia-class to be fitted with the most "up-to-date capabilities and stealth" to ensure they are survivable throughout their full 40-year life span. Click here for Key Design Features.
The Columbia-class program was known as the Ohio Replacement Program (ORP) or SSBN(X) program until 2016. Boats in the class were referred to as Ohio replacement boats or SSBNXs. Some budget documents continue to use these terms.
On July 28, 2016, it was reported that the first boat in the class will be named Columbia in honor of the District of Columbia. Since then, the program has been referred to as the Columbia Class program, and the boats as Columbia-Class Submarines. The Columbia-class was officially designated on 14 December 2016, by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, and the lead submarine will be the USS Columbia (SSBN-826).
On October 28, 2020, it was announced by the Secretary of the Navy that the second Columbia-class submarine will be named the USS Wisconsin (SSBN-827).
The Columbia class submarine is essential in order to maintain the U.S. Naval Submarine force levels, and has a total lifecycle cost for the entire class estimated at $347 billion. That includes all projected costs to develop, buy and operate the 12 submarines through 2042. In its FY 2019 request, the Navy asked for $3.7 billion for the Columbia class program - a 97 percent increase over 2018, making it the second-most expensive program in the 2019 Pentagon budget request, next to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Cost-reduction studies were made to explore design and construction possibilities, and concluded that the new design would be the least expensive option that could meet all of the technical requirements. While the Columbia class submarine is more expensive than past submarines, they are much more advanced and do offer cost saving features. One major cost savings is that each Columbia-class nuclear fuel core is designed to last as long as the submarine is in service, so there is no 2-year midlife nuclear refueling period as with previous SSBNs. This adds 2 years of service life to each Sub, or 24 years of extra service when you consider all 12 Submarines in the class.
The estimated hands-on construction cost of the first boat is about $8.4 billion ($14.4 billion adding costs for plans, etc.). The Navy has already received $6.2 billion in prior-year advanced procurement funding. The Navy’s proposed 2021 budget requests $2.9 billion in procurement funding, $1.1 billion in advance procurement (AP) funding, and $397.3 million in research and development funding for the program. The Navy’s total budget for fiscal year 2021 is $207.1 billion.
In June 2020, the U.S. Navy reached an agreement with General Dynamics Electric Boat, on an $869 million contract modification allowing for continued work on advance construction of Columbia-class submarines as well as a deal on the complete construction of the first two boats of the class. This modification raises the contract value to $9.47 billion.
On November 05, 2020, General Dynamics Electric Boat announced that the U.S. Navy awarded it a $9.5 billion contract modification option for the completion of USS Columbia (SSBN-826), materials for USS Wisconsin (SSBN-827), as well as associated design and engineering support.
The Navy plans to purchase the first Columbia-class submarine in 2021, the second in 2024, and one per year between 2026 and 2035. Under this schedule, the first boat (or lead boat) would be delivered in 2028, the second in 2031, and the remaining 10 at a rate of one per year from 2033 through 2042. After being delivered in 2028, the lead boat would undergo substantial testing, with the aim of having it be ready for its first deterrent patrol in 2031. See entire schedule...
Submarine Construction Industrial Base
U.S. Navy submarines are built at two shipyards - General Dynamics Electric Boat Division (GD/EB) of Groton, CT, and Quonset Point, RI, and Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding Shipbuilding (HII/NNS), of Newport News, VA. GD/EB and HII/NNS are the only two shipyards in the country capable of building nuclear-powered ships. GD/EB builds submarines only, while HII/NNS also builds nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and is capable of building other types of surface ships. The two yards currently are jointly building Virginia-class attack submarines.
Electric Boat will perform about 78% of the construction of the Columbia class and recently shifted the program to full-scale construction at the company’s manufacturing complex in Quonset Point, Rhode Island. Construction of four of the six 'supermodules' will take place at Electric Boat's Quonset Point facility. The supermodules will then be transported by barge to the company's Final Test and Assembly yard in Groton, Connecticut, where the components will be assembled into a complete submarine in a 200,000 square-foot facility now under construction specifically for the Columbia class. Electric Boat plans to hire up to 18,000 additional workers during the next 10 years for the project. About 2% of the work will be done by HII/NNS in Newport News.
In addition to GD/EB and HII/NNS, the submarine construction industrial base includes scores of supplier firms, as well as laboratories and research facilities, in numerous states. Much of the total material procured from supplier firms for the construction of submarines comes from single or sole source suppliers.
GD/EB and HII/NNS will build the 12 Columbia-class submarines between 2021 and 2039 with GD/EB as the prime contractor. HII/NNS will participate in the design and will manufacture major Columbia-class assemblies and modules, including the bow, stern, auxiliary machinery room, superstructure and weapons modules.