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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

The Navy’s Columbia-Class Submarine: This Is the U.S. Navy’s Largest Submarine Ever

Columbia-class. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
An artist rendering of the future U.S. Navy Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines. The 12 submarines of the Columbia-class will replace the Ohio-class submarines which are reaching their maximum extended service life. It is planned that the construction of USS Columbia (SSBN-826) will begin in in fiscal year 2021, with delivery in fiscal year 2028, and being on patrol in 2031.

Work Advancing on U.S. Navy Columbia-class Ballistic Missile Submarine: The U.S. Navy’s new Columbia-class submarine continues to hit its milestones.

This month the sub’s main propulsion system was delivered, and a contract was awarded for the ballistic missile sub’s generators.

So, things are proceeding nicely for the next-generation boat that is to replace the Ohio-class submarines that will begin to retire in 2027.

One aspect of production that could create a schedule slip for the Columbia-class is the availability of skilled workers. The U.S. defense industrial base will have to recruit a talented workforce to meet deadlines.

Columbia-class Forging Ahead

It has been a busy summer for the Columbia-class.

In June, the keel for the first new boat, the USS District of Columbia, was laid. Construction began on this sub in 2020.

Twelve submarines will be built in all to maintain the United States’ nuclear triad. Boomer subs provide 70 percent of America’s deployed nuclear weapon capacity.

The Columbia-class are the largest submarines ever built by the navy.

This is the top priority defense acquisition program in the service branch as the Columbia boomers will serve into the 2070s.

Propulsion System Ready for Integration

This month, Leonardo DRS sent General Dynamics Electric Boat the main propulsion system for the District of Columbia for integration. Rojoef Manuel of the Defense Post wrote that “The propulsion system recently completed factory acceptance trials, including full power endurance and related tests, which began in December 2020.”

Generator Contract Awarded

In other recent news for the Columbia-class, Northrop Grumman awarded a contract to Curtiss-Wright in a $120 million bid to provide generators for the new subs. In 2021, Curtiss-Wright also provided pumps for the Columbia-class in a contract valued at $100 million.

Work is being conducted at the firm’s Cheswick, Pennsylvania plant.

Skilled Workers Are Needed

Integration, construction, and contract execution is dependent on a skilled workforce that can be employed to allow the Columbia-class to make its development goals on time and under budget. USNI News reported from a nuclear-deterrence event at the Mitchell Institute and quoted Rear Admiral Scott Pappano who brought up the topic of recruiting welders, electricians, riggers and other employees.

“We need skilled trades feeding our industrial base,” Pappano said. He also explained how Chinese shipbuilders are pumping out new ships and submarines regularly to make up the world’s biggest naval fleet. Russia has also improved its nuclear triad by advancing its submarine force. New American workers are needed to keep up with adversaries. “For many years, we left that [training] to the contractors. We don’t have that luxury anymore,” he said.

Columbia-class Specs

Columbia-class boats will be 560 feet long with a beam of 43 feet.

The reactor is designed to last the life of the ship with a shorter mid-life re-fueling period.

The Columbia-class has 16 missile tubes – fewer than the Ohio-class boomers. This should help reduce maintenance costs and downtime. What is known as the Common Missile Compartment, a joint project between the United States and the United Kingdom, will allow the fielding of the Trident II D5 intercontinental ballistic missile. The two naval powers sharing the cost of the Common Missile Compartment will save millions of dollars.


Ohio-Class. Image Credit: U.S. Navy.

Adapting is the name of the game for the U.S. Navy’s Columbia-class program. The branch will have to remember how contracting can stay on schedule and how trends in workforce development can change rapidly. The navy can help skilled workers become knowledgeable about high-paying jobs in shipyards, perhaps by partnering its acquisition efforts with local government economic development departments. This will help the workforce meet the needs of big defense projects like the Columbia-class submarines. 2027 will be here soon, and the Ohio-class needs to retire around one sub a year. Hitting that deadline will require the navy to leave no stone unturned to ensure the Columbia-class makes it over the finish line.

Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.