The last-second funding measure that will fund the government until mid-November secures $621 million to ensure the start of construction for the second Columbia-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine but leaves several other programs in limbo.
The 71-page temporary spending bill, signed into law minutes before the end of the Fiscal Year 2023, included a provision for the start of the future USS Wisconsin (SSBN-827) to keep the Navy’s number one acquisition priority on track.
Wisconsin is the second in the estimated $113 billion SSBN class that will replace the retiring Ohio-class. The first boat, District of Columbia (SSBN-826), is under construction at General Dynamics Electric Boat and HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding. The submarine, set to replace USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN-730), is scheduled for its first patrol in 2030. The program was designed with a six-month buffer to preserve the schedule for testing ahead of the patrol. That margin has largely eroded, Navy leaders told Congress this year.
“Columbia started out on an accelerated schedule. We are no longer on the accelerated schedule, but we are meeting the contracted delivery schedule for Columbia,” acting Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti told lawmakers during her confirmation hearing.
A persistent concern for the Navy is a federal government shutdown or a continuing resolution that prevents new program starts would further delay the construction of the 12 planned Columbias, several defense officials told USNI News in the last month.
The Navy has explored extending the life of five of the existing Ohio-class boats to add more margin to the Columbia program.
“Separately, we have developed a mitigation strategy to extend some of our Ohio-class submarines in the event that Columbia does not deliver on time. But I am fully committed, if confirmed, to ensuring Columbia delivers on time,” Francetti said.
While the Columbia program is set to move ahead, other ship construction programs can’t issue new contracts under the continuing resolution.
Franchetti told the Senate during her confirmation hearing the Constellation-class frigate program, the Virginia-class attack submarine and plans for a submarine tender would be on hold pending a full funding bill for Fiscal Year 2024.
“We have nine ships in the budget request, and we won’t be able to start on four of them under a CR,” she said.