Navy $5 Billion Deal Builds New Nuclear-Armed Columbia-Class Sub

The Navy has awarded a $5.1 billion contract to General Dynamics Electric Boat

For Integrated Product and Process Development of the COLUMBIA Class submarine, a next-generation nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines designed to ensure a second-strike capability in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States.

The contract award is for the design, completion, component and technology development and prototyping efforts for the COLUMBIA Class Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBNs), a Navy statement said. This work will also include United Kingdom unique efforts related to the Common Missile Compartment. (Navy Statement HERE)

The $5 billion contract award comes amid concurrent Navy efforts to accelerate design support, development and construction the new class of submarines-- to ensure rapid progress toward the goal of engineering the most lethal, high-tech and advanced ballistic missile submarines the world has ever seen.

"The COLUMBIA class submarine is the most important acquisition program the Navy has today," Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer said in a statement. "This contract represents a significant investment in maintaining our strategic deterrent into the future, as well as our ongoing partnership with the United Kingdom."

Designed to serve well into the 2080s and beyond, Navy and General Dynamics Electric Boat developers are hoping to leverage years of science and technology development to best position the new submarine to enter service by 2031.

"Awarding this contract is an important step in ensuring an on-time construction start in FY 2021," Rear Admiral David Goggins, COLUMBIA Class Program Manager, said in a service statement.

The large, multi-billion dollar deal follows a DoD $203 million modification to an existing deal between the Navy and General Dynamics Electric Boat earlier this year - to begin manufacture of 17 new tactical missile tubes able to fire nuclear-armed Trident II D5 missiles.

The current effort has been preceded by "tube and hull" forging work underway for several years, is part of a collaborative US-UK Common Missile Compartment program.

The US and UK are together immersed in a common missile compartment effort. In fact, the US and UK have been buying parts together for the common missile compartment and working on a $770 million contract with General Dynamics’ Electric Boat.

The US plans to build 12 new Columbia-Class Submarines, each with 16 missile tubes, and the UK plans to build four nuclear-armed ballistic submarines, each with 12 missile tubes.

The Navy and Electric Boat previously completed specifications for the new Columbia-Class submarines, and the program has been progressing through a detailed design phase and initial production contract, service officials said.

In January of this year, 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."

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.

Columbia-Class submarines are 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, Columbia-Class submarines will be engineered as a stealthy, high-tech nuclear deterrent able to quietly patrol the global undersea domain.

The new submarines 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

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.

Next-Generation Technology

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-Class will utilize Virginia-class’s fly-by-wire joystick control system and large-aperture bow array sonar. The automated control fly-by-wire navigation system is also a technology that is 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.

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 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.

In total, the Navy hopes to buy 12 of the new submarines to serve into 2085 and beyond.

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