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Politico: Navy Welcomes New Sub Fund Created In NDAA

January 2, 2015
In The News

President Barack Obama’s signature on the new defense policy bill was a big milestone for the Navy’s high priority new ballistic missile submarine program, but much difficult work still lies ahead.

The new National Defense Authorization Act creates a National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund, a special repository to pay for the Navy’s Ohio-class replacement program. It authorizes Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to transfer $3.5 billion into the fund as seed money for an effort to develop and build 12 new nuclear-powered submarines to replace the Navy’s 14 current “boomers.”

But just as having a piggy bank doesn’t keep it full of pennies, the Navy’s special submarine fund does mean it, Pentagon leaders and Congress are agreed on how to pay for its new class of subs.

“The chief of naval operations has testified and has clearly stated a number of times that additional funding for the ORP is critical,” said Navy spokesman Capt. Danny Hernandez. “The same remains true today. Without additional funding, this would break our shipbuilding account and then some. Who pays is our biggest budget issue and leadership is working with DoD and Congress to ensure we start construction in 2021.”

If that target seems far enough down the line to permit some “slop” in the schedule, as defense officials sometimes say, forget it. The Navy’s program officials and engineers say they need to get every detail squared away as soon as possible to start the chain of events today that leads to work starting on time for the first ship.

For example, the Navy must develop a new nuclear reactor that can last the 40-year life of each ship without needing to be refueled. Officials worried earlier this year they’d face a six-month delay in that work following an interruption in funding to the Energy Department, but a cash infusion from Congress means the work remained on track, Navy Lt. Rob Myers said.

Engineers must also come up with a new electric drive system in place of the propulsion equipment on current submarines. And they must also continue work with the British Royal Navy on developing a common module that would fire Lockheed Martin-built Trident missiles aboard both the future American and British submarines.

A total of 241 tactical missile tubes are planned for the new American and British submarines, said Myers – 192 for the U.S. Navy’s Ohio-replacement and 48 for the Royal Navy’s Successor-class, which would follow its current class of four Vanguard-class submarines.

The Navy issued a contract modification for the next phase of that work in October, Myers said, an effort the navies hope “revitalizes” a missile tube industrial base that he called “dormant” for more than 20 years – since the last American and British subs were built.

The Navy believes it can develop and build a dozen new ballistic missile submarines for an overall cost of about $80 billion. But the Congressional Budget Office said this week the final price tag could wind up much higher. The Navy’s track record with building new classes of nuclear warships makes it likelier that the Ohio-replacement program could actually cost between $102 billion and $107 billion, the CBO said.

Navy officials point to their success with the ongoing Virginia-class fast attack submarine program, one of a few bright spots in the Pentagon’s otherwise mixed portfolio of major weapons programs. Contractors General Dynamics and Huntington Ingalls Industries are delivering Virginia-class boats ahead of schedule and below their cost estimates, backers point out. But the CBO report said it doesn’t expect those kinds of advantages to transfer to the new ballistic missile submarine.