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Report to Congress on Columbia-class Nuclear Ballistic Missile Submarine Program

The following is the Oct. 23, 2018 Congressional Research Service report, Navy Columbia (SSBN-826) Class Ballistic Missile Submarine Program: Background and Issues for Congress.

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 requested $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.