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Report to Congress on Columbia-class Ballistic Missile Submarine Program

The following is the May 12, 2021 Congressional Research Service report, Navy Columbia (SSBN-826) Class Ballistic Missile Submarine Program: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The Navy’s Columbia (SSBN-826) class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) program is a program to design and build a class of 12 new SSBNs to replace the Navy’s current force of 14 aging Ohio-class SSBNs. The Navy has identified the Columbia-class program as the Navy’s top priority program. The Navy procured the first Columbia-class boat in FY2021 and wants to procure the second boat in the class in FY2024.

The Navy’s proposed FY2021 budget requested the procurement of the lead boat, as well as $4,014.7 million (i.e., about $4.0 billion) in procurement and advance procurement (AP) funding and $397.3 million in research and development funding for the program. The Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) proposed FY2021 budget requested an additional $64.7 million in DOE development funding for the program. Congress, as part of its action on the Navy’s FY2021 budget, authorized the procurement of the lead boat and provided $4,122.2 million in procurement and AP funding and $397.3 million in research and development funding for the program. As part of its action on DOE’s proposed FY2021 budget, Congress provided $64.7 million in DOE development funding for the program.

The Navy’s FY2021 budget submission estimates the procurement cost of the first Columbia-class boat at $14,393.4 million (i.e., about $14.4 billion) in then-year dollars, including $6,007.8 million (i.e., about $6.0 billion) in costs for plans, meaning (essentially) the detail design/nonrecurring engineering (DD/NRE) costs for the Columbia class. (It is a long-standing Navy budgetary practice to incorporate the DD/NRE costs for a new class of ship into the total procurement cost of the first ship in the class.) Excluding costs for plans, the estimated hands-on construction cost of the first ship is $8,385.7 million (i.e., about $8.4 billion). The Navy’s FY2021 budget submission estimates the total procurement cost of a 12-ship class at $109.8 billion in then-year dollars.

Issues for Congress for the Columbia-class program include the following:

  • the risk—due to the COVID-19 pandemic, technical challenges, and/or funding-related issues— of a delay in designing and building the lead Columbia-class boat, which could put at risk the Navy’s ability to have the boat ready for its first scheduled deterrent patrol in 2031, when it is to deploy in the place of the first retiring Ohio-class SSBN;
  • whether the Navy in its annual budget submission has accurately priced the work it is proposing to do in the Columbia-class program during that fiscal year;
  • the risk of cost growth in the program;
  • the potential impact of the Columbia-class program on funding that will be available for other Navy programs, including other shipbuilding programs; and
  • potential industrial-base challenges of building both Columbia-class boats and Virginia-class attack submarines (SSNs) at the same time.

Download the document here.