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Is the U.S. Navy’s New Columbia-Class Missile Submarine In Trouble?

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.

Columbia-Class Missile Submarine In Trouble? The United States Navy should expect delays in delivering the first Columbia-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warned last month.

Though the service had hoped to have the first of the boats delivered in record time, the federal watchdog has suggested it isn’t likely to happen due to a lack of schedule risk analysis, which could help identify and manage risks to achieving planned delivery dates.

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The U.S. Navy is currently planning to spend $132 billion to develop and purchase a dozen of the Columbia-class boats – the largest and most complex submarines in its history. The plans had called for the first one to be delivered in April 2027.  The submarines have been a top priority for the Navy, and construction began on the future USS Columbia (SSBN-826) on October 1, 2020, while the full class of twelve boats is meant to replace the aging Ohio-class submarines beginning at the end of the decade.

Research and development work on the new class of SSBNs has been underway for several years, while advanced procurement (AP) funding for the lead vessel began in the fiscal year 2017 (FY17). Each of the planned dozen boats will be 560 feet in length and have a beam of 43 feet. The class is being constructed with a life-of-ship reactor, which will result in a shorter mid-life maintenance period, and each was designed to serve a forty-two-year service life. This will allow the dozen Columbia-class SSBNs to replace the existing fourteen Ohio-class boats – and reduced overall upfront procurement costs.

Two U.S. shipbuilders, General Dynamics Electric Boat (Electric Boat) and Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding (Newport News), had been awarded the contracts for the design and construction of the submarines. Electric Boat is the prime contractor for design and construction with Newport News serving as its major subcontractor.

In December, General Dynamics was also awarded a $5.1 billion modification of the previously awarded Columbia Integrated Product and Process Development Contract.

Columbia-Class Problems

Though the Navy had planned to deliver the first – or lead – boat more quickly than it had for the lead submarines of prior classes, the shipbuilder has not conducted a schedule risk analysis of the lead submarine’s construction schedule, the GAO has noted.

GAO leading practices, as well as those of the Department of Defense (DOD) guidance, are meant to identify schedule risk analysis as a critical tool for understanding and managing program risks that could impact the schedule.

“Without a statistical schedule risk analysis, programs have limited insight into how schedule risks could affect the likelihood of achieving key program milestones, including delivery, and the amount of margin—or a reserve of extra time—needed to manage critical risks and avoid delays,” the GAO report noted.

“After more than a year of full-scale construction on the lead Columbia submarine, the shipbuilders are facing delays because of challenges with design, materials, and quality. The shipbuilders are working to mitigate delays using additional shipyard resources, such as more staff to complete work more quickly. Because of the Columbia class program’s essential role in strategic deterrence, it has priority status over most national defense-related programs, including the Virginia class program,” it added.

Recommendations to the Navy

As part of its findings, the GAO laid out six recommendations, including that the Navy conduct a schedule risk analysis and update long-term plans. DOD concurred with four and partially concurred with two recommendations.

This included calling for the Secretary of the Navy, in coordination with the program office, to obtain lead and follow-on Columbia-class construction schedule information in the shipbuilder’s native file format or other formats that are compatible with government scheduling software. The Secretary of Defense should also ensure that OUSD(R&E) conducts a schedule risk analysis of the lead Columbia submarine’s construction schedule to inform the first in-progress program review of 2023 and provide the results to the program office.

The Secretary of the Navy should also ensure that the program office uses the schedule risk analysis from OUSD(R&E), and once provided, should update plans for the lead submarine’s delivery. The Secretary of the Navy should further ensure that the program determines an approach for conducting scheduled risk analysis for future Columbia-class submarines, including who is responsible for conducting the analysis and when it will be conducted.

The Secretary of the Navy should then obtain updated information about the shipbuilders’ Integrated Enterprise Plan that reflects the updated execution plans and resources needed to address shared risks across the nuclear shipbuilding enterprise – and finally, the Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Fiscal Year 2024 30-year shipbuilding plan is informed by updated planning that reflects resources needed to address shared risks between the Columbia and Virginia class programs, in order to certify that the budget the Navy submitted is sufficient to procure submarines on the schedules outlined in the plan.

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Author Experience and Expertise: A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.



  1. TheDon

    February 3, 2023 at 11:10 pm

    Email me for help.
    45yrs in military hardware design.

  2. Robin G.

    March 12, 2023 at 8:05 pm

    I spent my Navy career on Ohio Class SSBNs from Electric Boat to Bangor as a weapons department sailor.
    After reading your article of wordy tecno bullshit right out of the pentagon sphincter of excuses for its sheer top heavy flag officer and bureaucratic bloated PR departments or as those numb nuts like to call it: the Defense Dept. Public Affairs Information Office, of excuses and bullshit, the truth is its a typical cockup of incompetence and corruption. Pres. Eisenhower warned us 62 years ago of the nexus of the Military Industrial complex of Gov. and he was dead on.
    China and Russia have now joined together after decades of animosity between Mao and Khrushchev over who is the most ideal opposition of the US and western democracy. Those days are over and China is an economic and military superpower while Russia is only a military superpower in Nuclear weapons capability and i would say surpasses the US in SuperHeavy ICBM deliverable warheads with its newest RS 28 Sarmat Nato codename Satan II to replace the 1988 R36 Satan I. All on mobile launchers spread out over Siberian forests and under mountains on rail cars.
    We have 450 1973 vintage Heavy Minuteman IIIs ICBMs in fixed sites in ND, MT and CO. If you can see it and it does not move you can kill it.
    Their opretational ICBMs have 8 to 14 550 to 750kt warheads and decoys and can fly a polar route of 11k miles. Our old ICBMs carry a max of 3 but currently carry 1 warhead and no decoys. That leaves Trident with its 1990s vintage UGM133 D5 SLBM with 8 W88 variable yield warheads on each missile on 14 Ohio class boats that originally had 24 missiles each. 14x24x8=2688 beautiful peace thru strength mushroom clouds of joy compared to 450 on the Air Forces crappy old LGM30 Minuteman 3.
    Of course in the wisdom-less idiocy of our leaders trusting Russian treaty promises we reduces the 14 Ohio ship to 20 or less Missiles and the Minuteman 3s from over 1000 to 450 with only one warhead. I learned my lesson studying Russian psychology of the mind. They lie like Democrats breath. Never trust Communists or Russian leaders. China is not even a part of any Strategic Arms treaties, so they are building like crazy as are the Russians.
    We can not win a major nuclear conflict with both but the could even with massive casualties. I have Read the 1988 TS SIOP vol 1.
    MAD as crazy as it seams was meant to be a Mexican Standoff with the guarentee that the Soviets at that time would have no way to rebuild their industrial base and present a future threat to what remained of the world or the US. Today that is unlikely with China, Russia NK and possibly Iran.
    We need the Columbia and Virginia built on the same platform dimensions of Beam for Ring standardization and they are not. Virginia has a 42’ beam like Ohio and Columbia is a 43’. Hell Seawolf was 44’ and the best US Attack Subs ever built but to costly before modern CAD and modularity of construction. And reducing the number of missiles from 24 to 16 like its 1973 is insane while reducing the number of ships to 12 from 14 is doubly insane. Now size matters and the Soviet Typhoons are so big that they are detectable from space with magnetic anomaly sensors displacing twice as much as Ohio or the newer Columbia but the were made to park under the Arctic and wait poping up through the ice and launching. Thank God they only made a handful and all are gone but one now. The Red Octobers Caterpillar propulsion was a fictional story but the advancements of the newer Acula and Yassen class Russian SSBN hunter attack boats are not thanks to American traitors of the 1980s. Noise transmitted into the water is a killer and we had the quietest subs until then. Now im not sure. Russian boats dive deeper and use double hulls to take a beating. US Subs are more delicate. Stealth and surprise is our only advantage in a a fight to the death. Id rather have and Acula Hull with our equipment onboard and its been 20 years for the Russians to catch up so more is better for us since only half to 1/3 of or subs can be at see while the others ate in port as sitting ducks. Literally.

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