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U.S. Navy Pulls Together $9 Billion to Invest in Submarine Supply Chain

The future Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine (General Dynamics)
The future Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine (General Dynamics)

Published Mar 11, 2024 8:17 PM by The Maritime Executive

Facing delays in the construction of its next-generation ballistic missile submarine, the Columbia-class, the U.S. Navy wants to plow billions of dollars into strengthening American companies that build submarine components. Its newly-released FY2025 budget cuts back on R&D spending, decommissions seven ships before end of service life, and puts $8.8 billion over five years into the submarine industrial base. 

Defense officials have quietly admitted that the first Columbia-class - which has been at risk of delays - is now on track to deliver in 2028, one year late. The main problems include issues with constructing its steam turbine plant and completing the bow section, according to USNI. 

The Columbia program is timed to replace the current Ohio-class ballistic missile sub fleet on a one-for-one basis, and any prolonged delay will mean that the Navy will have to extend the lives of some of the Ohios. 

The setbacks reflect capacity challenges in the submarine industrial base, including serious workforce recruitment issues. The Pentagon has been providing funds to these suppliers since 2018 to help them increase efficiency and boost production, and the new budget request would triple the amount spent previously. 

If adopted by Congress, this would be a historic investment in capacity-building. To help cover the cost, the service is cutting one Virginia-class sub from the usual two in the FY2025 budget. This reduces procurement on paper, but it brings the pace of new orders into line with the industry's actual delivery rate of about 1.2 Virginia hulls per year. 

Other cost-saving measures include early decommissioning of two more Littoral Combat Ships, USS Jackson (nine years old) and USS Montgomery (eight years old). This is the latest in a series of early retirement requests for the two LCS classes. 

For the first time, the Navy is also asking Congress for early decommissioning for Expeditionary Fast Transports (EPFs). The hulls on the list are the first four in the series, USNS Spearhead, Choctaw County, Millinocket and Fall River, and they range in age from 10-12 years. Other decommissioning requests include cruisers USS Shiloh and Lake Erie, the amphib USS Germantown, and the semisub transport ship USNS John Glenn (now only 10 years old). 

These candidates were selected based on a "hull-by-hull" analysis, Undersecretary of the Navy Erik Raven told USNI.