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Document: Report to Congress on Navy Columbia Class Submarine Program

The following is the Aug. 18, 2016 Congressional Research Service report, Navy Columbia Class (Ohio Replacement) Ballistic Missile Submarine (SSBN[X]) Program: Background and Issues for Congress.

  • Curtis Conway

    I am concerned that there is no qualified shipyard that can build nuclear submarines on the West Coast. We have returned to an environment where the contemplation by a potential adversary conducting a first strike could take out a port with a single nuclear weapon when there just happened to be six carriers in port, and the United States would lose half the carrier force in a single strike. The current administration has actually suggested relinquishing first strike possibilities.

    From a budgetary point of view what is the US Navy’s ‘Plan-B’ for when Destroyers are not affordable? My suggestion is a very capable Aegis like frigate at half the cost of an Arleigh Burke DDG-51 Flt III Destroyer based on the National Security Cutter employing the 9-RMA AN/SPY-6(V) AMDR and magazines full of ESSM. By that time the Integrated Air & Missile Defense unit count will be rising precipitously, and AAW/ASW/ASuW can easily be augmented by a vessel at ½-2/3 the displacement. This would enable the construction of less expensive surface combatants in affected shipyards building relevant force elements, as the DDG-51 IAMD conversions, and some DDG-51 Flt III construction continues at perhaps a slower rate. So we can concentrate on the availability of the construction of very capable frigates at less cost but more units, a USS America (LHA-6) Class Large Deck Aviation platform for four (4) more units (alternating construction with the normal platforms at the shipyard), continue SSN construction as planned (two SSNs per year), and bring on an LPD-17 based Ballistic Missile Defense Ship that can perform AAW, BMD, and Command Ship duties demonstrating the ability to do more with less, and in essence being a modern LPD-17 amphibious hulled cruiser concept to fruition.

    I love it when the ‘perfect world’ is invented, then we have to deal with reality and the unplanned eventualities occur. Unlike the USMC the Fleet Ballistic Missile force cannot just show up Just-In-Time. They must be on station, and relieved on station so the nuclear deterrent force is always in affect. I still believe we should “plan for the worse, and hope for the best” and procure additional units. The Russians are actually contemplating standing up the WESTLANT deployment of FBM Subs again. The Chinese have hinted that they might in the South China Sea. Reducing the number of Columbia Class Boats should not even be contemplated with the planet actually getting less stable politically. Reducing the FBM force would have a destabilizing effect. Since all recommendations come time late, every reporting agency seeking reductions in the FBM force should take another look, particularly given the change in direction of the two primary belligerents in this realm, and the growth by both of those country’s current FBM forces actual and projected. I think these reports far undercut the required number of Columbia’s, and the required numbers will change with further investigation. All in all this is looking like the F-22 debacle all over again, and will make the United States less safe.

    Electric propulsion is huge. The surface fleet, specifically a new small surface combatant like a new design frigate, should embrace this propulsion concept, with mechanical backup (Hybrid Electric Drive). When conducting ASW prosecution of a subsurface target, the ASW surface combatant must be very quiet.

    A serious look at construction of nuclear Ice Breakers should be considered. Ice Breakers are electrically powered ships and the Russians have several in service at present. The United States can do better, particularly given the new nuclear power plants available.

    It is my belief that the SLBM stages can be used for the ICBM upgrade program. The ICBM will require additional booster/sustainer to carry the land based payload farther. The ICBMs are no longer MIRVed so they weigh less, and that should factor into the calculus of the needed rocket impulse component for ICBMs.

    Concerning efficient procurement and manufacturing techniques, the most efficient plan should be devised and codified into law. If it’s MYP then so be it.

    Just my 2 Ȼ.

    • Andre

      The more distributed US military shipbuilding is, the more expensive it is. In the event of a nuclear first strike on the United States, the number of survivable carriers would be irrelevant in the event of a nuclear war, given that the United States would rely upon its SSBNs and ICBMs for retaliation.

      I agree that the number of ORP SSBNs should not be reduced, especially as the ICBMs cannot strike China without crossing Russian airspace and the Chinese have no way of determining whether or not inbound ICBMs are aimed at them or Russia.

      Moreover, we should be looking at maneuvering MIRVs…

      • keywacat

        What if we looked at reducing nuclear arsenals instead?

        • Andre

          The agreement would have to include India, China, Pakistan and Israel…

          • keywacat

            The amount of weapons possessed by those countries do not quite match up to the US and Russia. Starting there would be fine, eh?

          • Andre

            No, why would Russia and the United States want to cede their advantage?

    • sferrin

      “I am concerned that there is no qualified shipyard that can build nuclear submarines on the West Coast.”

      And hasn’t been since 1970. One of the Sturgeon class was the last.

      “It is my belief that the SLBM stages can be used for the ICBM upgrade program.”

      Different requirements.

  • johnbull

    You make a very valid point regarding shipyards. The overwhelming majority of our actual combat vessels are made at one of just four yards (Pascagoula, Newport News, Bath Iron Works, and Electric Boat in Connecticut). Outside of NASSCO in San Diego, there’s not much on the West Coast for building for the navy, and certainly nothing that could build nuclear vessels.

    • sferrin

      There are barely enough contracts to support those yards, let alone more.

  • DB45

    we need to buy at least 24 of those submarines. We need to start to rethink aircraft carriers. If we outfit 12 of those new subs to carrier all kinds of missiles. at 175 missiles a boat thats alot of fire power that can sneak in your backyard. then we could probably go to 8 or 7 aircraft carriers. that would save us so much money and they are just targets for subs. we don’t have enough sub hunters to keep them a float. either way we need more subs.