2031 Just Around the Corner for Ohio-Class Replacement Sub
The U.S. Navy must have the first replacement for the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine on duty by 2031.
“It seems like a long way away,” Rear Adm. David C. Johnson, program executive officer of submarines said April 7 at the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space conference in National Harbor, Md. “It really is a today issue. It’s not something that can be deferred, delayed, cut or re-planned.”
Johnson said 2031 is just around the corner when it comes to developing and building a new class of submarines.
Fiscal year 2031 is when the fifth Ohio-class SSBN retires, leaving the Navy with a force of nine ships. If the lead replacement sub is not ready to take over by that date, it would leave the Navy one below its mandated requirement to have at least 10, he said.
As the first ship in its class, it will need a three-year test-and-evaluation period to assess its performance, including shake down deployments to spot and then correct any shortcomings. There must be independent certifications of the readiness of the crew and weapon systems, he said.
That takes the timeline back to about 2027, he said.
It will take seven years to build the lead ship. That is an aggressive schedule given the Ohio-replacement will be the largest submarine ever built in the United States, he said. That time frame is shorter than the previous three lead ship submarines builds: the Ohio, Seawolf and Virginia classes.
The lead Virginia-class ship was 40 percent the size of the Ohio replacement and it took 86 months to build, Johnson noted.
The construction phase takes the program back to 2021. “Now we’re a mere six and half years away from today.”
In the next six and half years, the program must execute the design phase, carrying out research and development and construction preparation activities. About 83 percent of the designs must be complete at the start of construction, he said.
The program is now almost four years into development. It is laying the foundation for the ship construction design phase to begin in 2017. The early stage work done in that period is crucial to deliver the first submarine on time and on budget, he said.
“The scope of Ohio replacement’s design is unparalleled. It is the largest design effort in the Navy’s shipbuilding history,” Johnson said.
“Successfully prototyping … is critical for assuring cost effective ship construction,” he added.“The Ohio replacement program has to stay on track."
The scope of the design effort is 50 percent greater than the Virginia-class, he said. The Ohio replacement will feature advanced silencing, a new propulsion and a first of its kind electric drive. The length of the ship is 560 feet.
Rear Adm. Joseph E. Tofalo, director of the Navy’s undersea warfare division, said recapitalizing the strategic sea-based deterrent of the nuclear triad is something that only happens every five decades. “This is a solemn duty that falls to every other generation. And it is our turn.”
The funding is flowing for the research and development phase so far, Tofalo said. There is $1.2 billion for R&D in the fiscal year 2015 budget proposal, he added.
The problem on the horizon is the acquisition costs in the 2020s. It will gobble up 50 percent of the Navy's shipbuilding budget and severely impact other programs, he said.
“We cannot afford to have the Ohio replacement negatively impact the rest of the shipbuilding community,” Tofalo said.
Under the New START Treaty, SSBNs will be responsible for approximately 70 percent of the nation’s deployed nuclear warheads, he noted. “Seventy percent is a big number. We have got to get this right,” he said.