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Summary and key points: The U.S. Navy’s Columbia-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, which are intended to replace the aging Ohio-class, are experiencing delays due to problems with suppliers.

Ohio Class

– The lead boat, USS District of Columbia (SSBN-826), may now be delivered in FY28 instead of FY27.

-These submarines are part of a program that could cost $347 billion over its lifetime. The Columbia-class submarines will be the largest the U.S. builds. They are equipped with 16 SLBM tubes and advanced technology and are designed to last 42 years. The delays could force the Navy to extend the life of the existing Ohio-class submarines.

Problems with suppliers delay the US Navy’s Columbia-class submarine program

The future of the United States Navy Columbia-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines – which replace the aging Ohio-class boats – could arrive later than expected, according to reports that circulated earlier this year. According to the Capitol Forum, the U.S. Navy now expects the procurement program to be delayed by at least a year due to problems with suppliers.

USNI News further reported that the program’s lead boat is experiencing delays due to problems with suppliers and that the future USS District of Columbia (SSBN-826) could be delivered in fiscal year 2028 (FY28) instead of the previously planned delivery in FY27.

The biggest obstacle is the lead boat’s bow module, which is currently being built at Huntington Ingall Industry’s Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia and is well behind schedule. In addition, further delays throughout the program are caused by the steam turbines that Northrop Grumman is building for the U.S. Navy.

HII has delayed delivery of additional parts of the boat, delaying the construction schedule of SSBN-826.

“We see tensions across the industrial base and I think putting that in the context of the Secretary’s 45-day review will add additional depth and context to the challenges we see across the shipbuilding portfolio and we expect that to be resolved fairly soon,” Under Secretary of Defense Erik Raven told USNI News following the U.S. Navy’s fiscal year 2025 budget briefing on Monday.

Replacing the Ohio-Class

Originally known as the Ohio Replacement Program (ORP) or SSBN(X), it required the replacement of the Ohio-Class submarines with the new Columbia -class SSBNs from the early 2030s.

The aim of the program is to build a dozen of these new nuclear submarines. These will continue to support the USA in its strategic deterrence mission.

However, the program now appears to be behind schedule and the US Navy may be forced to Ohio-class submarines have been in service longer than expected. The original plan was for the first SSBNs to be retired starting in 2027, with one boat leaving service each year until 2040. The Navy has already determined that it would be possible to extend the service life of at least five of its Ohio-class by two to three years each, so that the fleet would remain at least twelve ships continuously except for three years between 2024 and 2053.

Expensive program

Even before the delays were announced – which could increase the price – Columbia -class SSBNs were on track to become one of the Pentagon’s most expensive programs. It was previously reported that the US Navy would spend around $132 billion to procure the twelve submarines, while the total cost for the entire class is estimated at $347 billion.

This figure includes all planned costs for the development, purchase and operation of the twelve submarines until 2042.

Ohio Class

In their fiscal year 2019 (FY19) request, Navy officials requested $3.7 billion for the Columbia-class program—a 97% increase over 2018. This makes it the second most expensive program in the Pentagon’s 2019 budget request, just behind the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is operated by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine Corps.

Last October, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) warned that there was a risk that the program would consume at least 20 percent, or about $20 billion, more money due to possible delays.

Big and responsible

The new SSBNs will be the largest submarines the United States has ever built. Each of the twelve planned boats will be 560 feet long and 43 feet wide.

The Columbia-class will be equipped with sixteen SLBM tubes, as opposed to twenty-four SLBM tubes on Ohio-class SSBNs. This will also reduce construction, operation and maintenance costs. In addition, the new boats will use the Common Missile Compartment (CMC) jointly developed by America and Britain, which is also used on the new Battleship-class submarines. It was designed to launch the Trident II D5 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The joint project reportedly saved both countries hundreds of millions of dollars.

Dreadnought class

The new submarines will be longer and heavier and will feature a complex electric propulsion system and associated technology.

Unlike the previous Ohio-class, the new ballistic missile submarines will be built with a life-of-the-ship reactor, resulting in shorter mid-life maintenance intervals, and each boat is designed to operate for 42 years.

Author’s experience and expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a writer from Michigan. He has published over 3,200 articles for more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites in his twenty-year career as a journalist. He writes regularly about military equipment, weapons history, cybersecurity, politics and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Author for Forbes and Clearance jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciuYou can send an email to the author: (email protected).