Monday, April 10, 2017

Navy Columbia Class (Ohio Replacement) Ballistic Missile Submarine [SSBN-X] Program

The Navy’s proposed FY2017 budget requests $773.1 million in advance procurement (AP) funding and $1,091.1 million in research and development funding for the Columbia class program, previously known as the Ohio replacement program (ORP) or SSBN(X) program, a program to design and build a new class of 12 ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) to replace the Navy’s current force of 14 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, and the $773.1 million in AP funding requested for FY2017 represents the initial procurement funding for that boat.

The Navy as of January 2017 estimates the procurement cost of the lead ship in the class at $8.2 billion in constant 2017 dollars, not including several billion dollars in additional cost for plans for the class, and the average unit procurement cost of ships 2 through 12 in the program at $6.5 billion each in constant FY2017 dollars. A March 2017 GAO report assessing selected major DOD weapon acquisition programs stated that the estimated total acquisition cost of the Columbia class program is $100,221.9 million (about $100.2 billion) in constant FY2017 dollars, including $12,648.1 million (about $12.6 billion) in research and development costs and $87,426.5 million (about $87.4 billion) in procurement costs. Observers are concerned about the impact the Columbia class program will have on the Navy’s ability to fund the procurement of other types of ships at desired rates in the 2020s and early 2030s.

Potential issues for Congress for the Columbia class program include the following:

whether to approve, reject, or modify the Navy’s FY2017 funding request for the program;

the potential impact on the program of DOD being funded under a continuing resolution (CR) for much of FY2017;

whether to authorize and appropriate FY2017 advance procurement (AP) funding for the program in the Navy’s shipbuilding account or the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund (NSBDF);

whether to approve, reject, or modify the Navy’s proposed strategy for building Columbia-class boats at the country’s two submarine-construction shipyards;

cost, schedule, and technical risk in the Columbia class program; and

the prospective affordability of the Columbia class program and its potential impact on funding available for other Navy shipbuilding programs.

This report focuses on the Columbia class program as a Navy shipbuilding program. CRS Report RL33640, U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues, by Amy F. Woolf, discusses the SSBN(X) as an element of future U.S. strategic nuclear forces in the context of strategic nuclear arms control agreements.

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