Congress Hopes to Pay for Nuclear-Armed Sub

Lawmakers are working on a special fund created to pay for the Navy's expensive next-generation nuclear-armed submarines

Members of Congress 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 estalished as a way to allocate specific aquisition 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.

The issue and challenges of the new fund were discussed at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee Seapower and Projection Forces Subcomittee chaired by Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va.

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.

A key concern for lawmakers and Navy officials is to find a path forward for the new submarines without depleting the services' annual shipbuilding fund needed to build vital assets such as aircraft carriers, destroyers, amphibs and other submarines.

"If the Congress funded the purchase of the Ohio Replacement submarines through the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund, which was established in the fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, the Navy could potentially save several hundred million dollars per submarine by purchasing components and materials for several submarines at the same time," Eric Labs, Congressional Budget Office, told lawmakers.

"If the Navy is still constrained with the historical level of shipbuilding, $16 billion a year, and they must pay for the Ohio Replacement out of that…the result would be buying 192 ships over a 30 year period instead of 264, and that would lead to a 237 ship Navy by 2045 instead of the 305 ships the Navy envisions,” Labs added.

Forbes, Subcommittee Chairman, said the Pentagon will need to increase its overall budget to help support the new fund.

"While the Navy’s plan purports to achieve a 308 ship Navy by 2022, it assumes that there will be a significant expansion in the funding for shipbuilding beyond what we have seen in recent history. I think a more plausible alternative is to increase the overall Department of Defense topline and ensure that a credible Navy build plan is accommodated within this higher top line," Forbes added.

The new fund has several specific provisions designed to lower costs for the new fleet of submarines, including an "Economic Order Quantity Authority" which can help create larger bulk purchases or economies of scale. Other aspects of the fund allow for contracts to support advanced construction of the submarines and also create an ability for incremental funding to buy long-lead items needed years in the future.

“BBC (Block Buy Contracting) is an option for reducing the unit procurement costs of the first several Ohio replacement program ballistic missile submarines (SSBN[X]s), and both MYP and BBC are options for reducing the unit procurement costs of the latter ships in the class. If these contracting mechanisms were used across all 12 boats in the class, and if doing so reduced their unit procurement costs by about 10%, the effect would be to get a bit more than one of the 12 planned boats in the class for “free,” compared to procuring them with annual contracting," Ron O’Rourke, Congressional Research Service, told the Subcommittee hearing.

Strategic Nuclear Deterrence

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.

Navy officials explain that the Ohio Replacement submarines’ mission is one of nuclear deterrence.

Detailed design for the first Ohio Replacement Program is 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 Ohio Replacement 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 Ohio Replacement 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.

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.

The ORP is being designed with a series of next-generation technologies, many of them from the Virginia-Class attack submarine. In particular, the ORP will utilize Virginia-class’s fly-by-wire joystick control system and large-aperture bow array sonar.

The ORP 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.

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