The delivery of Columbia-class is initially set based on when each will be officially purchased. The Navy’s proposed schedule for procuring 12 Columbia-class boats, and for having Columbia-class boats replace Ohio-class SSBNs, is shown below. Under the Navy’s FY2012 budget, the first Columbia-class boat was scheduled to be procured in FY2019, and Columbia-class boats were to enter service on a schedule that would maintain the Navy’s SSBN force at 12 boats. The Navy’s FY2013 budget deferred the procurement of the first Columbia-class boat by two years, to FY2021.
As a result of the deferment of the procurement of the lead boat from FY2019 to FY2021, the Navy’s SSBN force will drop to 11 or 10 boats for the period FY2029-FY2041. The Navy states that the reduction to 11 or 10 boats during this period is acceptable in terms of meeting strategic nuclear deterrence requirements, because during these years, all 11 or 10 of the SSBNs in service will be operational (i.e., none of them will be in the midst of a lengthy mid-life overhaul).
The Navy acknowledges that there is some risk in having the SSBN force drop to 11 or 10 boats, because it provides little margin for absorbing an unforeseen event that might force an SSBN into an unscheduled and lengthy maintenance action.
Delivery of Lead Boat
As the Navy delayed purchase of the first Columbia-class boat until FY2021, there is a new delivery schedule that updates the initial estimate below. The Navy’s FY2023 budget submission would have the first boat (lead boat) delivered in October 2027 (USS District of Columbia / SSBN-826 ), the second in October 2030 (USS Wisconsin / SSBN-827), the third boat in July 2032, and the fourth boat in July 2033. The remaining submarines are expected to be delivered at the rate of one per year. After being delivered in 2027, the lead boat would undergo substantial testing, with the aim of having it be ready for its first deterrent patrol in 2031. Results of those tests, and part supplier's capacity to deliver on-time, may pose a risk to the lead submarine’s delivery schedule and the service dates of following Columbia-class submarines. The Navy is considering extending the service lives of some Ohio-class boats if needed, to ensure the SSBN force remains above 12 boats.
In August 2022, RADM Scott W. Pappano (Program Executive Office Strategic Submarines) spoke at the Mitchell Institute's Nuclear Deterrence and Missile Defense Forum event, saying that having the right work force is one of the biggest challenges affecting the Columbia-class ballistic submarine program’s ability to stay on schedule.