Friday, July 15, 2016

US Navy Nuclear Submarine Plans

Got subs? The Navy sounds increasingly confident it can squeeze an extra submarine into its construction plans. The additional Virginia-class attack sub, to be funded in the 2021 budget, would enter service just as the attack submarine force shrinks to historic lows while Chinese and Russian fleets grow in both numbers and sophistication.

The Navy had planned to cut back production of Virginias, which carry conventional cruise missiles and torpedoes, to make room for the much larger Ohio Replacement Program (ORP) boats, which carry nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. Maintaining the nuclear deterrent for the worst case scenario takes top priority — but attack submarines are in high demand every day. The growing threat of nuclear-armed great powers increases the need for both kinds of boats. It’s a painful tradeoff the Navy would rather not make.

Now new Navy studies suggest the shipyards can keep building two Virginias a year, the current rate, even as they start building the first “boomer” in 2021. As Ohio Replacement production ramps up after 2021, however, keeping up two Virginias a year will become harder.

The Navy will present an updated Ohio Replacement Program cost estimate to the Defense Department later this summer and seek approval to move into detailed design and engineering work, the Program Executive Officer for Submarines said today.

The new ballistic missile submarine program will request a Milestone B decision from the Pentagon’s acquisition chief and the Defense Acquisition Board, and “coincident with that, we’re also producing a new cost estimate,” Rear Adm. Michael Jabaley said at an event co-hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the U.S. Naval Institute. He said the Navy is still working through this component cost position, of the lifecycle cost estimate, and is awaiting final approval of that dollar figure before presenting to the DAB.

A 2014 cost estimate put the program’s average follow-ship cost — ships two through 12, not including the typically most-expensive lead ship – at $5.2 billion, squarely in between the mandatory threshold of $5.6 billion and the target objective of $4.9 billion. Jabaley added that the 2014 cost estimate put the non-recurring costs – engineering work and building facilities to produce the subs – at $17.4 billion. Updated figures will be publicly released after the DAB approves the Milestone B decision, he said.

Jabaley said he views it as his responsibility to not only control costs for ORP but to actively seek ways to reduce cost.


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