Home » Budget Industry » Navy Awards Electric Boat $5.1B Columbia-Class Submarine Design Contract

Navy Awards Electric Boat $5.1B Columbia-Class Submarine Design Contract

An undated artist’s rendering of the planned Columbia-class submarine. Naval Sea Systems Command Image

General Dynamics Electric Boat has been awarded a $5.1 billion contract to undertake the detailed design work for the U.S. Navy’s next generation of ballistic missile submarines – the Columbia-class (SSBN(X))

According to the Pentagon notification, “the Integrated Product and Process Development (IPPD) contract award is for the design, completion, component and technology development and prototyping efforts for the Columbia-class Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBNs). This work will also include United Kingdom (U.K.) unique efforts related to the Common Missile Compartment.

“The Columbia-class submarine is the most important acquisition program the Navy has today,” said Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer in a statement.
“This contract represents a significant investment in maintaining our strategic deterrent into the future, as well as our ongoing partnership with the United Kingdom.”

In a statement, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) praised the work of the Navy and EB.

“Every day, countless individuals – from the shipyard to suppliers to workforce development experts – are working to ensure that our region is ready to meet the multi-generational challenge of designing and building this new submarine,” he said.
“This milestone today is a testament to their work, but a reminder that we still have a lot to do as Congress and the Navy look to grow our undersea fleet.”

The contract award follows a January Milestone B approval for the program to enter the detailed design and engineering phase of the program.

“A program this large and complex will undoubtedly face financial and technical challenges in the years ahead, but it will eventually result in what is arguably the most advanced weapon system ever developed,” Eric Wertheim, author of U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets told USNI News on Thursday.

The recapitalization of the ballistic missile submarines is the Navy’s top acquisition priority and is poised to make a major dent in the Navy’s shipbuilding accounts.

CRS Image

According to a recent Navy cost estimate from earlier this year, the lead ship is expected to cost $10.4 billion – including $4.2 billion in detail design and non-recurring engineering work, as well as $6.2 billion for ship construction – and follow-on ships to cost $5.2 billion, all in 2010 dollars, USNI News reported at the time of the milestone B award.

An August estimate of the total program cost obtained by the Congressional Research Service put the total cost of the program at $122.3 billion in 2010 dollars.
The class of 12 boomers will replace the current class of 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines as part of the U.S. nuclear deterrent triad along with ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombers.

Columbias and the planned four-vessel U.K. Royal Navy Dreadnaught-class of SSBNs share a common missile compartment that will field Trident II D5 nuclear missiles.

The U.S. boomers will feature a new life-of-boat reactor, a quiet electric drive and field 16 Trident II D5s.

The Navy estimates the future USS Columbia will be operational by 2030.

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Categories: Budget Industry, Foreign Forces, News & Analysis, Submarine Forces, U.S. Navy
Sam LaGrone

About Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.

  • D. Jones

    Love boomers. Best DoD bang for the buck.

    That being said, two concerns:

    1) Life of boat reactor needs a plan B when they get stretched way beyond design life, as ALWAYS happens. Design in stuff NOW that can make refueling easier, when it becomes necessary. This will save future generations countless $$$. Maybe some new development in reactors will appear, too. Sure would be nice to make it a pseudo-drop in.

    “Permanent power sources, aren’t”

    Unexpected stuff happens.

    Samsung learned that the hard way. Yes, refueling is expensive. Just make the inevitable a little less painful.

    2) How about doing something about construction capabilities? We’ll be below strength for 14 years, FOURTEEN YEARS, on the most vital arm of our nations strategic deterrence? Seriously? We see yet another “gift” from DoD-hating administrations that will be putting us deep in a hole.

    Find the production bottlenecks and fix them. Costs less than a certain turkey program or two.

    3) 12 is not enough. The number deployed at any given time requires geographical distribution that “some number less than 12” cannot provide. We only have 3 Seawolves, and by the time the 10-boat pinch hits, you know who will be beating Virginia depths. Then what? We should have a dozen Seawolves along with Virginias and a bunch more than 12 Columbias, either built or constructed to the point where final upgrading & assembly is measured in years, not decades.

    Do it now before some administration comes along and scraps tooling so no more can be economically made (or at least tax-exempt .mil tooling and park it somewhere as critical defense resources)

    Boomers may not be useful in fighting other people’s wars, which makes them all the more worthwhile. Saves unnecessary entanglements. Have enough carrier groups to keep most riff-raff honest.

    There will be more KJU’s and Irans in the future, backed by the usual suspects. The only true ace we have are the boomers. Build more.

    • D. Jones

      “Three concerns”

      Got on a roll there 😉

    • DaSaint

      Much needed, but the projected pace of the program is unacceptable. First, we should never drop below 12 boomers, ever, as that probably means no more than 6 to 9 deployed at any given time. Second, one should be programmed in 2025, thereby completing the program a year earlier, in 2034. Third, since we no longer ‘need’ to adhere to treaties with our adversaries, we really should consider deployment of the Trident II D5 on modified Virginias.

      • 6 to 9 deployed at any given time – is overly optimistic. You’re not going to be able to carry a D5 launch tube in a Virginia no matter what. The tube is simply too big.

        • FactChecker90803

          You are correct, but an updated D4, would fit in a Virginia Class.

          • Not that simple. You’d need to upgrade the navigation system and radio room as well. Also I think that you are referring to the Trident I (C4). I’m not aware that there ever was a D4. BTW, all of the C4s are officially retired per the SALT II treaty. They are occasionally used as targets for BMD.

          • FactChecker90803

            You are correct, I meant to say C4, formerly known as EXPO (Extended Range Poseidon), just an improved version of the Poseidon C-3 missile, the Trident II D-5 was a completely new design with a wider 2.1 meter diameter.

            Orbital ATK, a combination of Hercules and Morton Thiokel the original manufacturers of the C3 and C4 rockets with Orbital Launch Systems, still have the tooling for the 1.8 and 1.9 meter diameter rockets, so it’s no big deal for Orbital ATK to manufacture new C4 rockets.

            As to fitting in a modified Virginia SSN, of course the Fire Control, Communications System and installation of launch Tubes would be required, but being that C4 is only 33 feet long the launcher hump would be minimal.

          • There was some discussion a while back that a conventionally armed SLBM could be used as part of a rapid response capability. The problem that occurs with this is that it is impossible to determine if a SLBM in flight contains a conventional or nuclear warhead; and could trigger a retaliatory response. As a former strategic weapons delivery vehicle, there are many treaty restrictions on the C4 as to just what purposes they may serve (space launch may be an exception – someone here may know). There are even restrictions on the locations from which the C4 can be launched (Meck for instance). Orbital Northrop might make a few minor changes and call the stages by some other designation and turn them into a SLV, but I think that the ones already in the inventory are restricted by treaty.

          • Subs and their missiles are really only half the equation. Much of the other half is supporting infrastructure, inspections, schedules and rotations, plus the politics of it all. Outfitting Virginia class attack subs with SLBMs – even if physically possible – would heavily disrupt both the SSN and SSBN community and cost additional billions.

            First, there are no SLBM storage, inspection or repair facilities at the major SSN bases in New England, Pearl Harbor or San Diego, nor space and a feasible means of building them. So a Virginia class boat would travel far from its own bases and patrol areas for periodic outfitting at SSBN bases in Bangor WA and Kings Bay GA.

            Now imagine the strain put on Bangor and KB, which must make physical space and scheduling space for a flock of Virginias and a separate class of missiles. The inspection and QC process alone would mean crews need billeting on those two bases which already host blue and gold boomer crews. Politicians in New England won’t like something that looks like a shift of home ports. So from an infrastructural perspective, that just ain’t gonna happen.

            Also consider that Virginia SSN crews would need specialization in both mission disciplines, attack and deterrence. ‘Hunters’ must be distracted with ‘hiding’ strategies and would be restricted from SpecOps missions in littoral waters. Having nuclear warheads piggyback on an intel mission in a foreign country’s territorial waters is politically unrealistic. And SSNs without nukes are more welcome in ports than SSBNs. Some host cities, both in America and overseas, would politically oppose even a brief port visit with nuclear weapons aboard, let alone home basing.

        • muzzleloader

          What about Tomahawks carrying nuke warheads? The warhead would be a smaller yield of course, and would be more of a knife range weapon, but an SSGN 688 or Virginia so armed would be cause for pause. Could that be a stop gap until the Columbia,s come on line?

          • We should have announced our intention to build up to the limits of SALT II. Ash Carter was anti-nuc. It comes as no surprise that his plan unilaterally reduces our retaliatory capability. There was some talk about improving the other legs of the triad, but talk is cheap. There will be another round of SALT talks, and perhaps Mattis can talk the Russians down to our level.

      • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

        The UK have 4 boats to have 1 deployed at all times.

        Presumably the US has a similar ratio

  • bobbymike34

    This is great news but we should also accelerate the B-21, LRSO & GBSD and R&D the next generation of warheads at the national labs.

  • FrankBBB

    There’s no way that the last 2 boats will ever get built. Once the SSBN fleet drops down to 10 it’s going to stay there forever.

  • PolicyWonk

    While I believe a new fleet of SSBN’s is the right choice for our nuclear deterrent, I’d like to see several additional boats built to take on the SSGN role now played by 4 of the Ohios (in addition to having the Columbia’s built to easily switch out SLBM’s to perform the SSGN role should circumstances require it).

    The new Virginia’s being built with the VPM is a definite step in the right direction, but these are clearly no match for the sheer firepower of an Ohio SSGN.

    • @USS_Fallujah

      Meh, IMO you’d be spending a lot of extra money vs a Virginia V class that would be better spent buying more SSNs that can do a lot more than just be stealthy missile tube trucks.

      • John Locke

        Right. War is horrible enough. After you light off one nuke and kill a couple million people the rest is just for show.

        • @USS_Fallujah

          Uhm, yea…but we were talking about SSGN vs SSN, not SSBNs. In this case having lots of extra rounds available isn’t just for show, but instead gives combat commanders much more reach without putting pilots in harm’s war unnecessarily.

        • El Kabong


          Cruise missiles can be conventionally armed.

          What do you think the USN has been launching for the last 25 or so years at targets?

  • aztec69

    It’s OK, after tomorrow it won’t matter how much money the Navy wants to squander in CT to make GD happy! FMI, how much money did GD donate to Jim Courtney’s campaign fund last election?

  • fedspy

    its nice to see the 3 amigos, courtney, murphy, and bloomy supporting defense spending , i call 3 big phonies, or fake supporters of defense spending when they were supporting cutting defense spending under mr. obama. oh, let me throw in malloy, he’s also a supporter of defense spending, in ct.

  • FactChecker90803

    So we currently have 14 boomers that carry 24 D5’s, for a total of 336 SLBM’s that have a capacity of 3360-4,036 of MIRV’s. And there replacement will be 12 boomers that will carry 16 D5’s or D6’s, for a total of 192 that will have a capacity of 1920-2304 if the missiles use the same MIRV bus.

    So ahh will we use does other warheads on cruise missiles ?, a small SLBM ?, an updated D4 fitted in modifide Virginia Class ?, more land based ICBM’s ?, a land based mobile IRBM ? or just reduce our strategic deterrent.

  • Rob C.

    i wonder why they felt that having large missile tubed variant of the Columbia as a SSGN wasn’t feasible, This would have been time to add on to that. Virginia V’s are going be OK, but you need more of them to equal it’s firepower.