Report to Congress on Virginia-Class Attack Submarine Program

December 11, 2019 7:07 AM

The following is the Dec. 5, 2018 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 (which are to have the hull numbers SSN-804, SSN-805, and SSN-812) would be the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd boats in the class. Virginia-class boats scheduled for procurement in FY2019-FY2023 are to be procured under a multiyear procurement (MYP) contract.

Prior to the Navy’s FY2020 budget submission, Navy plans had called for procuring two Virginia-class boats in FY2020. SSN-812 was added to the FY2020 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.

Most Virginia-class boats procured in FY2019 and subsequent years are to be built 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’s FY2020 budget submission 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’ combined procurement cost as estimated in the FY2020 budget submission, 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 force-level goal for SSNs is to achieve and maintain a force of 66 boats. The Navy’s SSN force included 51 boats at the end of FY2018. 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 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 FY2020 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 the impact on the program of the Department of Defense being funded for at least part of FY2020 by a continuing resolution (CR); a reduction in the number of boats to be covered in the FY2019-FY20-23 MYP contract; a shortfall of more than $1 billion in program procurement funding reported in November 2019; whether the Navy has accurately priced the work it is proposing to do in the program in FY2020; the funding profile for SSN-812; 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 latest (i.e., Block V) version of the Virginia-class submarine.


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