Report to Congress on Virginia-class Attack Submarine Program

June 25, 2019 7:30 AM

The following is the June 24, 2019 Congressional Research Service report, Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The Navy has been procuring Virginia (SSN-774) class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) since FY1998. The three Virginia-class boats that the Navy has requested for procurement in FY2020 would be the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd boats in the class. Virginia-class submarines are being procured under a multiyear procurement (MYP) contract covering at least 10 boats to be procured in FY2019-FY2023.

Navy plans previously called for procuring two Virginia-class boats in FY2020. The third boat requested for FY2020 was added to the budget request as part of the FY2020 budget-planning cycle. The Navy states that since this third boat has not received any prior-year advance procurement (AP) funding, it would execute (i.e., be constructed) on a schedule similar to that of a boat procured in FY2023.

The Navy plans to build the second of the two boats procured in FY2019, the second and third boats requested for procurement in FY2020, the second of the two boats planned for procurement in FY2021, and all subsequent Virginia-class boats with the Virginia Payload Module (VPM), an additional, 84-foot-long, mid-body section equipped with four large-diameter, vertical launch tubes for storing and launching additional Tomahawk missiles or other payloads. The Navy’s FY2020 budget submission shows that Virginia-class boats with and without the VPM have estimated recurring unit procurement costs of roughly $3.2 billion and $2.8 billion, respectively.

The Navy estimates the combined procurement cost of the three Virginia-class boats requested for procurement in FY2020 at $9.274.4 (i.e., about $9.3 billion). The boats have received $1,756.9 million in prior-year “regular” advance procurement (AP) funding and $361.6 million in additional Economic Order Quantity (EOQ) AP funding for components of boats being procured under the FY2019-FY2023 MYP contract. The Navy’s proposed FY2020 budget requests the remaining $7,155.9 million in procurement funding needed to complete the boats’ estimated combined procurement cost, as well as $1,887.6 million in “regular” AP funding for Virginia-class boats to be procured in future fiscal years and $882.0 million in additional EOQ AP funding for components of boats to be procured under the FY2019-FY2023 MYP contract, bringing the total amount of procurement and AP funding requested for the program in FY2020 to $9,925.5 million (i.e., about $9.9 billion), excluding outfitting and post-delivery costs.

The Navy’s SSN force included 51 boats at the end of FY2018. The Navy’s force-level goal for SSNs is to achieve and maintain a force of 66 boats. From the mid-2020s through the early 2030s, the number of SSNs is projected to experience a valley or trough, reaching a minimum of 42 boats in FY2027-FY2028. Some observers are concerned that this projected valley—a consequence of having procured a relatively small number of SSNs during the 1990s, in the early years of the post-Cold War era—could lead to a period of heightened operational strain for the SSN force, and perhaps a period of weakened conventional deterrence against potential adversaries such as China. The projected SSN valley was first identified by CRS in 1995 and has been discussed in CRS reports and testimony every year since then. The Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan projects that, after reaching its projected 42-boat minimum, the SSN force will increase to 66 boats by FY2048.

Issues for Congress regarding the Virginia-class program include whether to approve, reject, or modify the Navy’s FY2020 procurement and advance procurement (AP) funding requests for the Virginia-class program; the funding profile for the third Virginia-class boat requested for procurement in FY2020; the potential industrial-base challenges of building both Columbia-class boats and Virginia-class attack submarines (SSNs) at the same time; and technical risk in the design for the Block V version of the Virginia-class program.

Download the report here.

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