General Dynamics has won a $5 billion contract to develop the next generation of U.S. Navy ballistic missile submarines, the cutting-edge Columbia class. It is a follow-on to a previous $1.85 billion award in 2012 for R&D work related to the vessels’ development.
"Working closely with the Navy and the submarine industrial base, [General Dynamics subsidiary] Electric Boat will continue to lead critical aspects of the Columbia-class development effort, including design, material procurement, construction and operating-cost reduction, to achieve an affordable and effective program," said Electric Boat President Jeffrey S. Geiger.
The contract includes funding for component and technology development for the sub, as well as a provision that will benefit the Royal Navy. General Dynamics will use part of the funding to continue design work for the Common Missile Compartment, which will be integrated into both the U.S. Navy's new SSBN and the Royal Navy's Dreadnought-class strategic missile submarine.
Both navies are pushing hard to get the new vessels built before Cold War-era vessels – the U.S. Ohio-class and the UK Vanguard-class (or Trident-class) – age out of service. Construction of the first of twelve Columbia-class subs is scheduled to begin in late 2020, and the full process of design, construction, delivery and commissioning is expected to take more than a decade. Any delays for either nation could lead to a gap in the seagoing component of the "nuclear triad."
Vice Adm. Terry J. Benedict, the director of the U.S. Navy's strategic systems programs, says that the new subs must be ready by 2031 in order to replace the aging Ohio-class. “We have already taken a two-year slip in the Columbia-class [schedule] which pushed basically line-on-line with the Ohio’s retirement," he told the strategic forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee in May. In the UK, the Ministry of Defense is so concerned about on-time delivery that it has hired an expert private-sector manager to keep its sub program on track, and it has written its contracts with provisions that will penalize vendors for delays.