Report to Congress on Columbia-class Ballistic Missile Submarine Program

December 29, 2023 7:25 AM

The following is the Dec. 20, 2023, 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. Since 2013, the Navy has consistently identified the Columbia-class program as the Navy’s top priority program. The Navy procured the first Columbia-class boat in FY2021. The Navy’s proposed FY2024 budget requests the procurement of the second boat in the class.

The Navy’s FY2024 budget submission estimates the procurement costs of the first and second boats at $15,179.1 million and $9,285.3 million (i.e., about $15.2 billion and $9.3 billion), respectively. The first boat’s procurement cost is much higher than that of subsequent boats in the class because the first boat includes most of the detail design/nonrecurring engineering (DD/NRE) costs for the 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.) The first boat’s estimated procurement cost includes $6,557.6 million for plans, meaning, meaning (essentially) the DD/NRE costs for the class. Excluding costs for plans, the estimated hands-on construction cost of the first ship is $8,621.5 million.

The third, fourth, and fifth boats in the class, which are programmed for procurement in FY2026, FY2027, and FY2028, have estimated procurement costs of about $8.2 billion or $8.3 billion each. The Navy’s FY2024 budget submission estimates the total procurement cost of a 12-ship class at $112.7 billion in then-year dollars, or an average of $9,387.6 million each in then-year dollars.

The first two boats in the class are being funded with incremental funding, meaning that the procurement cost of each boat has been divided into multiple annual increments. The procurement of the first boat was funded with three increments in FY2021-FY2023, and the procurement of the second boat is programmed to be funded with two increments in FY2024 and FY2025.
The Navy’s proposed FY2024 budget requests $2,443.6 million (i.e., about $2.4 billion) in procurement funding for the second boat and $3,390.7 million (i.e., about $3.4 billion) in advance procurement (AP) funding for Columbia-class boats to be procured in FY2026 and subsequent years.

In addition to the above requested funds, on October 20, 2023, the Administration submitted a request for FY2024 emergency supplemental funding for national security priorities that includes, among other things, a total of $3,393.2 million in funding for the submarine industrial base to support construction of new submarines and maintenance of existing submarines.

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

  • the risk—due to 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;
  • 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.

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