The Navy has recently advanced development of a new class of nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines to be used as undersea strategic deterrents -- to ensure a second-strike nuclear ability from beneath the ocean around the world in the event of a catastrophic first-strike on the continental US.
Ship specifications for the new Columbia-Class submarines have been completed and the program is now entering detailed design phase and initial production contract, service officials said.
In acquisition terms, development of the new submarines have passed what's termed "Milestone B," clearing the way beyond early development toward ultimate production. Production decisions are known as "Milestone C."
"The program was approved to proceed to Milestone B Jan. 4, authorizing it to enter into the engineering and manufacturing development phase and permitting the transition from preliminary design to detail design," William Couch, spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command, told Scout Warrior.
Ultimately, the Navy hopes to build and operate as many as 12 new nuclear-armed submarines, to be in service by the early 2040s and serve well into the 2080s.
The Navy has begun early construction and prototyping on a new class of nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines designed to help ensure global peace by deploying massive destructive power under the sea.
The Ohio Replacement Program, a so-called SSBN, is scheduled to begin construction by 2021. Requirements work, technical specifications and early prototyping have already been underway at General Dynamics Electric Boat.
Designed to be 560-feet– long and house 16 Trident II D5 missiles fired from 44-foot-long missile tubes, ORP will be engineered as a stealthy, high-tech nuclear deterrent able to quietly patrol the global undersea domain.
The new submarines, called "Columbia-Class" are being designed for 42 years of service life.
Construction on the first submarine in this new class is slated to be finished up by 2028, with initial combat patrols beginning in 2031, service officials said.
Strategic Nuclear Deterrence
Detailed design for the first Columbia-Class submarine is happening now, slated for 2017. The new submarines are being engineered to quietly patrol the undersea domain and function as a crucial strategic deterrent, assuring a second strike or retaliatory nuclear capability in the event of nuclear attack.
The Navy is only building 12 Columbia-Class submarines to replace 14 existing Ohio-class nuclear-armed boats because the new submarines are being built with an improved nuclear core reactor that will better sustain the submarines, Navy officials have said.
As a result, the Columbia-Class submarines will be able to serve a greater number of deployments than the ships they are replacing and not need a mid-life refueling in order to complete 42 years of service.
With the life of ship reactor core, there is not a need for mid-life refueling, Navy developers explained.
By engineering a "life-of-ship" reactor core, the service is able to build 12 SSBNs able to have the same at sea presence as the current fleet of 14 ballistic missile submarines. The plan is intended to save the program 40 billion savings in acquisition and life-cycle cost, Navy developers said.
Electric Boat and the Navy are already progressing on early prototype work connecting missile tubes to portions of the hull, officials said. Called integrated tube and hull forging, the effort is designed to weld parts of the boat together and assess the ability to manufacture key parts of the submarine before final integration.
In 2012, General Dynamics Electric Boat was awarded a five-year research and development deal for the Ohio Replacement submarines with a value up to $1.85 billion. The contract contains specific incentives for lowering cost and increasing manufacturing efficiency, Navy and Electric Boat officials said.
The U.S. and U.K. are together immersed in a common missile compartment effort for ORP. In fact, the U.S. and U.K. are buying parts together for the common missile compartment and working on a $770 million contract with General Dynamics’ Electric Boat. The U.S. plans to build 12 ORPs, each with 16 missile tubes, and the U.K. plans to build four nuclear-armed ballistic submarines, each with 12 missile tubes.
Columbia-Class submarines are being designed with a series of next-generation technologies, many of them from the Virginia-Class attack submarine. Leveraging existing systems from current attack submarines allows the Columbia-Class program to integrate the most current technologies and systems while, at the same time, saving the developmental costs of beginning a new effort, officials said.
The Columbia-Classwill utilize Virginia-class’s fly-by-wire joystick control system and large-aperture bow array sonar.
Sonar technology work by sending out an acoustic ping and then analyzing the return signal in order to discern shape, location or dimensions of an undersea threat.
Navy experts explained that the large aperture bow array is water backed with no dome and very small hydrophones able to last for the life of the ship; the new submarines do not have an air-backed array, preventing the need to replace transducers every 10-years.
The submarines combat systems from Virginia-class attack submarines, consisting of electronic surveillance measures, periscopes, radios and computer systems, are also being integrated into the new submarines. The new Columbia-class subs will also utilize an automated control fly-by-wire navigation system, a technology that is also on the Virginia-Class attack submarines. A computer built-into the ship's control system uses algorithms to maintain course and depth by sending a signal to the rudder and the stern.
The shafts of the new submarines are being built to last up to 10 or 12 years in order to synchronize with the ships maintenance schedule. Existing shafts only last six to eight years, developers said.
The Columbia-Class will also use Virginia-class’s next-generation communications system, antennas and mast. For instance, what used to be a periscope is now a camera mast connected to fiber-optic cable, enabling crew members in the submarine to see images without needing to stand beneath the periscope. This allows designers to move command and control areas to larger parts of the ship and still have access to images from the camera mast, Electric Boat and Navy officials said.
The Columbia-Class submarine are also engineering a new electric motor for the submarine which will turn the shaft and the rotor for the propulsion system. The new motor will make propulsion more efficient and potentially bring tactical advantages as well.
Lawmakers are working on a special fund created to pay for the Navy's expensive next-generation nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines.
Members of Congress have recently discussed the details of the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund, a special effort established in 2015, at a recent hearing on the topic. The fund was established as a way to allocate specific acquisition dollars to pay for the new submarines. In total, the Navy hopes to buy 12 of the new submarines to serve into 2085 and beyond.
Production for the lead ship in a planned fleet of 12 Ohio Replacement submarines is expected to cost $12.4 billion — $4.8 billion in non-recurring engineering or development costs and $7.6 billion in ship construction, Navy officials have said.
The Navy hopes to build Ohio Replacement submarine numbers two through 12 for $4.9 billion each in 2010 dollars.
- Kris Osborn can be reached at Kris.Osborn@Scout.com.
- To Ask Military Expert KRIS OSBORN Questions, VISIT THE WARRIOR FORUMS.