Mabus: Ohio-Class Submarine Replacement Could ‘Gut’ Navy Shipbuilding Budget
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
Without extra funding from Congress, the production of 12 new ships to replace the Ohio-class submarines could “gut” the Navy’s shipbuilding budget for more than a decade, Secretary of the Navy Raymond Mabus said Sept. 15.
“It will take half of our normal shipbuilding budget every year for a dozen years to build these … ballistic-missile submarines,” Mabus said during a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. “It has the potential to gut the rest of our shipbuilding programs.”
Navy officials have repeatedly called the replacement program a top priority. However, tight budgets are threatening to make the service choose between the replacement subs and other ships.
“I sort of reject the notion that the only way you pay for a ship is to take it out of another ship, but you’ve got to take it from somewhere,” Mabus said.
The National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund — which would separate the payment of the submarines from the Navy’s regular budget — would allow the service to continue to fund other acquisitions such as the littoral combat ship and destroyers, he said.
Both the House and the Senate Armed Services committees included provisions in their respective fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act bills that would help pay for the program. The Senate committee offered about $100 million toward the fund, with the House committee pledging up to $3.5 billion.
The ships, which will replace the Navy’s fleet of 14 Ohio-class nuclear submarines, are slated to begin production in 2021, Mabus said. The first should be operational by 2028. They have a lifespan of 40 years, a July Congressional Research Service report said.
The lead boat in the program is estimated to cost $12.4 billion in 2014 dollars, according to the report.
While construction is still years away, the Navy is already spending billions of dollars in preliminary work, Mabus said.
“We are working on them now. We are doing the engineering now. We’re doing the R&D now. … It’s a multi-billion dollar bill even today to do this,” Mabus said. “We are spending several billion dollars five years before we even start building these things in 2021.”
The Navy requested $1.2 billion for research and development on the replacement submarines in its fiscal year 2015 budget request, the CRS report said.
The submarine replacement program is of national importance, Mabus said. He doubted that the country would support the paring back of attack submarines and surface ships because of budget restraints.
“This is a national program. This is a national strategic deterrence,” he said.
The only two solutions are for Congress to either create the fund or to increase the Navy’s shipbuilding funds, Mabus said.
“That’s the hard math of it,” he said.