United States

Report to Congress on Columbia-class Nuclear Ballistic Missile Submarine Program

The Columbia (SSBN-826) class program is a program to design and build a class of 12 new ballistic missile submarines (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 wants to procure the first Columbia-class boat in FY2021. Research and development work on the program has been underway for several years, and advance procurement (AP) funding for the first boat began in FY2017. The Navy’s proposed FY2021 budget requests $2,891.5 million (i.e., about $2.9 billion) in procurement funding, $1,123.2 million (i.e., about $1.1 billion) in advance procurement (AP) funding, and $397.3 million in research and 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/non-recurring engineering (DD/NRE) costs for the Columbia class. (It is a longstanding 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 boat has received $6,227.8 million (i.e., about $6.2 billion) in prior-year AP funding. The Navy’s proposed FY2021 budget requests $2,891.5 million in procurement funding, and the remaining $5,274.2 million (i.e., about $5.3 billion) in procurement funding needed to complete the boat’s total estimated procurement cost of $14,393.4 million is to be requested in FY2022 and FY2023.

The Navy wants to procure the second Columbia-class boat in FY2024. The Navy’s FY2021 budget submission estimates the procurement cost of this boat at $9,326.1 million (i.e., about $9.3 billion) in then-year dollars. The Navy’s proposed FY2021 budget requests $1,123.2 million in AP funding for the Columbia-class program, of which $1,028.0 million (i.e., about $1.0 billion) is for the second boat and $95.2 million is for the third and subsequent boats in the program.

The Navy’s FY2021 budget submission estimates the total procurement cost of the 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 (coronavirus) situation, 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 has accurately priced the work it is proposing to do in the Columbia-class program in FY2021;
  • 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.

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Congressional Research Service

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