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Report to Congress on Columbia-Class Ballistic Missile Submarine Program

The following is an Aug. 7, 2018, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Columbia (SSBN-826) Class Ballistic Missile Submarine Program: Background and Issues for Congress. 

From the Report:

The Columbia (SSBN-826) class program, previously known as the Ohio replacement program (ORP) or SSBN(X) program, is a program to design and build a new class of 12 ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) to replace the Navy’s current force of 14 Ohio-class SSBNs. The Navy has
identified the Columbia-class program as the Navy’s top priority program. The Navy wants to
procure the first Columbia-class boat in FY2021. The Navy’s proposed FY2019 budget requests
$3,005.3 million in advance procurement (AP) funding and $704.9 million in research and
development funding for the program.

The Navy as of January 2017 estimated the procurement cost of the lead ship in the class at
$8.2 billion in constant 2017 dollars, not including several billion dollars in additional cost for
plans for the class, and the average unit procurement cost of ships 2 through 12 in the program at $6.5 billion each in constant FY2017 dollars. An April 2018 Government Accountability Office
(GAO) report assessing selected major DOD weapon acquisition programs stated that the
estimated total acquisition cost of the Columbia-class program is $102,075.3 million (about
$102.1 billion) in constant FY2018 dollars, including $12,901.0 million (about $12.9 billion) in
research and development costs and $89,174.3 million (about $89.2 billion) in procurement costs.

Observers are concerned about the impact the Columbia-class program will have on the Navy’s
ability to fund the procurement of other types of ships at desired rates in the 2020s and early
2030s.

Issues for Congress for the Columbia-class program for FY2019 include the following:
 whether to approve, reject, or modify the Navy’s FY2019 funding requests for
the program;
 cost, schedule, and technical risk in the Columbia-class program; and
 the prospective affordability of the Columbia-class program and its potential impact on funding available for other Navy programs.

This report focuses on the Columbia-class program as a Navy shipbuilding program. CRS Report
RL33640, U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues, by Amy F.
Woolf, discusses the Columbia class as an element of future U.S. strategic nuclear forces in the
context of strategic nuclear arms control agreements.

 

  • Lawrence Trevethan

    Concern about the cost of this program is warranted. Even more should be concern about the decision to replace the entire TRIAD. Land based bombers and missiles, because their locations are known, are far too easy to attack in this era, and should not be considered. But suggestions to put a 4 tube “plug” into Virginia class attack submarines may offer an alternative option. Such a vessel would be a dual use one – as are British SSBN’s (which have an attack sub alternate mission and appropriate sonar suite) – greatly reducing the risk submarines are being purchased to no purpose at all. This because there is no evidence that the nearly universal assumptions about how strategic nuclear weapons “deter” wars are actually true. Surely the ORIGINAL assumption of the FIRST US “nuclear weapons policy” (called Atomic Diplomacy) did not work as it was assumed (to prevent non-nuclear wars – the only kind others could start in the era when there were no other powers with atomic bombs). Not even the defection of the KGB archivist – resulting in the exposure (and later translation) of thousands of documents – provides any evidence that a nuclear attack actually going to happen was ever “deterred” due to the threat of “retaliation.” [There WAS one case where the Soviet General Staff RECOMMENDED an attack – by 1200 missiles including 400 with nuclear weapons – on Western Europe – holding US cities hostage with ICBMs and SLBMs to prevent retaliation. But this attack didn’t happen because the head of state did not believe that NATO had already launched two missiles on Moscow – as the General Staff had miscalculated during a NATO exercise]. While a negative proposition can never be proven – so the fact there has probably been no deterrence at all does not mean there might not be in some circumstances – spending too much national treasure on preventing what isn’t being planned probably is less wise than a hedge bet which allows our investment to be in dual use systems which have deterrent value – if it is ever needed – but which also are fully useful without conversion in a major conventional fight.

    • NavySubNuke

      “This because there is no evidence that the nearly universal assumptions about how strategic nuclear weapons “deter” wars are actually true.”
      LOL. Except for the complete and utter lack of great power war since 1945 —- the longest such recorded period of great power peace since the fall of the roman empire.
      Sorry but I stopped reading your post after this sentence — there were too many gross conceptual errors to that point to keep reading.
      Best of luck in whatever your real job is though.

      • Stephen

        Ouch! Pretty abrasive opinion piece. Have the Major Powers just shifted to 3rd party actions? Inciting fun & games in Africa, Asia & S. America; US, UK, USSR/Russia & China & more, continue to meddle in other countries… World Peace has never & will never be achieved; still, an admirable goal.

        • NavySubNuke

          Yes they have – nuclear weapons make direct conflicts between the great powers too risky and potentially too costly.
          Every death is a tragedy but those killed in proxy wars like Vietnam and the wars in the Middle East are a fraction of those who would have been killed in a direct conflict between two or more great powers.
          How long do you think the cold war would have stayed cold if it wasn’t for nuclear weapons? How much more of the GDP of the US and NATO would have been spent on maintaining large conventional armies had we not had nuclear weapons to serve as the ultimate security guarantee of the alliance against the Soviet Union?

          • Stephen

            Yes, very precise. Just as we closed the door on the cold war, we had the chance to make Pax America worldwide. As the only true superpower we were in the position to guide Russia into the European orbit & we could have leveraged China into a transpacific partnership. Instead, we jumped up & down & started to convert our military efforts into capital. Our Saudi friends funded Osama & others; we let that happen. Oligarchs took the golden rings that we should have controlled. Babushka dolls were unveiled as the KGB morphed into something else & its leader seized control. I wonder, will we play chicken with China in the SCS? Three regions are ready for rupture; Eastern Europe, Middle East & whatever field of battle that China chooses. That spells a lot of GDP, right?

          • Lawrence Trevethan

            I hate to agree with you, but there is something to several of your points. On the other hand, I am not at all sure that the (ex) KGB types were ever going to permit a transition to the modern world? And I AM sure Putin is not a classical Russian leader. His brand of “Russia First” is uniquely his own, and truly focused on a narrow political solution ONLY HE can provide. I think he is the Lady from Niga who rides on the back of a Tiga (tiger) – who if he gets off – will end up INSIDE the tiger. Russians normally are STRATEGIC thinkers – Putin is a purely TACTICAL thinker – and has done things very much not in Russia’s long term national interests. Such as throw out a carefully cultivated record that you can depend on Russia’s sovereign word, even if you are at war with Russia. Russians usually are proud of their “superior” strategic thought. Xi is quite different – any “leveraging” of PRC would have to have been done in the era of Hu – Xi is not the sort to be “leveraged” and his ambition is boundless.

          • Stephen

            Putin lives by the sword; once out of power… So, he will do whatever it takes to stay on top. His strategic move; simply sending LGMs into Crimea. Pretty impressive. Our chance to contain PRC has passed.

          • NavySubNuke

            LOL. Oh dear, now it is your turn to go off the deep end into rambling nonsense.
            It sure is nice to dream though isn’t it? To imagine a world where something positive could have come out of Russia rather than something Putin?
            You should read the recently declassified UK accounts of what happened at Tienanmen Square sometime too — if you have any sense you will realize we are more than just a TPP away from any meaningful engagement with China.
            I realize it is fun to blame the US for everything and think that if we had just done a few things differently the world would be a peaceful and happy place and we could all just sit around a campfire, roast marshmallows, and sing but at the end of the day that isn’t how the world works.

          • Stephen

            IDK, I think you missed my last statement in the previous post; World Peace is a pipedream… Just a thought; our economy is >30 times that of Russia. That was our most effective weapon against the USSR.

          • NavySubNuke

            Certainly our economy was a huge part of it but the bigger part — the part that actually allowed us to demobilize our troops after WWII and invest so much in growing our economy — was our nuclear deterrent. If we hadn’t had the nuclear deterrent and we had tried to disarm the way we did, a way the Soviets never really did, all of Europe would have been steam rolled. I don’t know that the Soviets would have made it to actually invading America at that point but with all of Europe under their thumb and a good chunk of the oil producing regions of the middle East as well there is at least a chance they might have.

          • Stephen

            Our economy & investment in Tridents & Seawolf made the Naval difference. The Skunkworks dazzled in air power. US was positioned for an overwhelming advantage. ASA victory was declared; stop work was issued & ‘excess’ was to be disposed. We vastly outnumber PRC in deliverable nukes; last I checked, Russia has a larger inventory than the US. Getting the soviet satellites to transfer materials was a stroke of genius. Even so, proliferation continues & yes, our deterrence program must continue. Long lead time for the Columbia reflects the complexity of new & exciting designs. I wonder, will Naval Reactors get a greenlight for a prototype? Those investments, under Rickover, gave a huge advantage to the design, engineering & operating performance we have enjoyed since the 50s…

          • Lawrence Trevethan

            Russia has no inherent conflicts of interests with the USA. Neither has anything the other badly needs. Russia has vast resources and a relatively educated population. Its great problems lie in its history, and how that shaped its language and culture. The dream of “something positive” is worth maintaining, against the day better leaders come to power. Liberty and its economic impacts ought not to be that hard of a concept to sell.

          • NavySubNuke

            Russia didn’t/doesn’t have an inherent conflict of interest with either the Ukraine or with Georgia either but that didn’t stop Putin from invading both.
            Certainly the dream of something positive is worth maintaining but we need to temper it with reality based on current events. For example, unless/until Russia starts meeting her treaty obligations under the INF treaty there is no point in trying to negotiate further arms control reductions since we can’t trust them to follow through on them.

          • Lawrence Trevethan

            Actually, Russia GUARANTEED the BORDERS of Ukraine in a formal treaty. But SO DID WE. SO DID NATO. Because of that, Ukraine got rid of about 33% of the nuclear weapons of the former Soviet Union. I have no problem being very upset about this. Indeed, it is a significant change from previous Russian policy – Soviet and post Soviet. Russia previously saw its reputation for honoring treaties as a major asset. If Putin threw that practice out the window, why trust ANY treaty it is a party to? I say hold their feet to the fire – insist they honor the rules or be expelled from everything – and treated as if there are no agreements we can trust. Which, apparently, there are not. My point is not that Russian policy is NOT driven by fundamental and real conflicts of interests. Agreement was – and potentially again could be – possible. I do not think that extends to “an agreement with Putin” is possible. Because of his choices.

          • NavySubNuke

            “Actually, Russia GUARANTEED the BORDERS of Ukraine in a formal treaty. But SO DID WE. SO DID NATO. Because of that, Ukraine got rid of about 33% of the nuclear weapons of the former Soviet Union. ”
            Sorry but no. Russia, the US and the UK signed the Budapest memo in which all agreed that Ukraine’s borders would be respected. The memo of agreement is not a formal treaty and does not involve NATO. It was though a handful of magic beans that convinced Ukraine to give up its nukes.
            I’m glad to see you have a realistic appreciation of how Putin regards pieces of paper though. We’ll see what happens when he dies but there isn’t much hope for things to improve between now and then.

          • Lawrence Trevethan

            I don’t think nuclear weapons have anything to do with “the Cold War staying cold.” Having read thousands of pages of Soviet documents (and also Warsaw Pact documents), and having unexpectedly spent much of my life as a China specialist, I do not think there was ever much interest in a hot war with the USA, with NATO, or even with countries like Japan. I participated in some direct Cold War operations that might have become wars. I also had something to do with the revised US nuclear policy which laid the foundation for the build down after 1991. There is no convincing evidence that nuclear weapons affected any decision for war except in the sense the US tends to move them around during a crisis – ASSUMING that matters somehow (which, if we keep it secret, probably isn’t known, and for that reason, has zero impact).

          • NavySubNuke

            Well you are certainly entitled to your own opinion on the matter. It’s certainly true you will never find a document that said “we would have invaded NATO today but they had nuclear weapons so we changed our mind.” If you prefer to imagine a world where the Soviet Union stayed peacefully on their side of the world after WWII while Europe and NATO largely demobilized because no documents directly say that I don’t mind. Your opinion is illogical and inconsistent with human history but not impossible.

        • Lawrence Trevethan

          I do not believe in pure war or pure peace. I see relations as a complex spectrum including cooperation, competition and opposition. I do believe we can and should advocate and reward more civil behaviors and also that we should lead by example. Any policy we are unwilling to practice is not going to be taken seriously by anyone else. The idea of norms and consensus standards will die unless we both practice it and penalize those who don’t.

  • robertjgargasz

    May God the Father Bless and Inspire are who work on this project to defend Liberty and Freedom of the United States of America and the Free World on earth! May Jesus Christ His Son find pleasing your work against those who seek to deliver satanic evils to God’s people! Protect us dear God from all evil and fromthe evil one!