Sea-Air-Space 2021 prequel: post-Columbia substructure capability will help alleviate SSN shortage

Artist’s impression of future Columbia-class guided missile submarines. AMERICAN NAVY

ARLINGTON, Va .– The nation’s submarine building capability created for the Columbia-class missile submarine (SSBN) program will ultimately help the US Navy increase production of attack submarines (SSN) to alleviate the shortage of attack boats, according to Navy and shipbuilding officials.

Under current planning, Navy force structure studies have shown a need for 70 SSNs. The service currently has around 50 SSNs, which are heavily used by regional combat commanders, only able to meet around 50% of their deployment needs.

The Navy builds two Virginia-class attack submarines per year, and soon both, in the Block V version, will be equipped with the Virginia payload module, which will add cruise missile capability and hypersonic missile capability. to force, among other payloads.

The Navy would like to procure three SSNs per year, but is currently limited by its budget capacity to two per year as the Columbia-class SSNB is under construction. The Columbia program is a unique recapitalization program for the country’s strategic deterrent force.

“We are working closely with industry to make sure we are making the right decisions over the long term,” said Rear Admiral Bill Houston, Director, Undersea Warfare, Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, who was selected to be the next Navy Commander, Submarine Forces, speaking during a pre-recorded webinar of the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Prequel.

“We must also see that from a budgetary point of view [and] maintenance capability, ”said Houston. “What concerns us is that if you go to three [SSNs] per year trying to reach the top [the submarine force] with the Virginia – with a 33 year lifespan of the ship – when you start building three a year, you end up with a strength structure of 99. So as we rebuild Columbia and build two Virgins a year, when [construction of] the last Columbia hull starts in ’35, then we will have a significant capacity. So we have the capacity to go to three a year right now. The problem is, we have Columbia under construction, so we’re just doing that balance right now. Work with the industry now to ensure that stability is there for [submarine builders], we try to avoid these peaks / valleys.

“As part of our [shipyard submarine maintenance] plan, this workforce is highly skilled and we cannot go through periods where private industry does maintenance and then it does not do maintenance, because it is a fragile set of skills ”, a- he declared.

Houston stressed that the stability of work orders is key to the health and performance of the shipyard.

“We are able to go to three Virginia [per year] at present, [but] it would have an impact on Columbia, so we are focusing on Columbia and two Virginias per year, ”he said. “Were watching [at] how we can get up to three, but we’re sure that when that last Columbia hull gets under construction, we’ll have significant capacity.

Houston noted that one Virginia SSN V block moves 10,000 tonnes submerged, which is about half that of the Columbia SSBN, so each Columbia is equivalent to two Virginia SSNs moving. As a result, with one Columbia and two Virginia Block Vs under construction, “we’re essentially building the equivalent of four Virginia’s,” he said.

“So the capacity is there,” he said. “It’s more about stability and avoiding peaks and valleys. “

“I think our industrial base is somewhat fragile as we’ve gone from low-rate production in the 90s to now a two-per-year Virginia, a two-plus-one Virginia and a Columbia,” said Kevin Graney. , president of General Dynamics Electric Boat, whose company, together with Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding, builds the Columbia-class SSBN. “It forces us to bring in a lot of new suppliers across the industry base to support this. “

Graney also said Electric Boat has invested in additional facilities, including construction halls and serviced spaces in Groton, Connecticut, and Quonset Point, Rhode Island; the modernization of a floating dry dock from which the Columbia will be launched; and the purchase of a new transport barge. The company has invested “approximately $ 250 million in training programs over the past five years and we are developing active learning shipyards within shipyards that have been shown to be effective in improving our skills.”

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