US Navy’s Latest Submarine Leaves Pentagon Baffled on When It Will Be Ready
Officials overseeing the development of the Navy’s next-gen submarine (carrying nuclear missiles) do not have the information needed to know whether or not the first vessel of the $132 billion Columbia program will deploy on time in 2031. Navy and Pentagon officials “have not obtained the schedule data and statistical information needed to confidently determine the likelihood that the shipbuilders can accomplish it as planned,” the Government Accountability Office explained in a report.
The 12-ship Columbia class is programmed to replace the current fleet of 14 Ohio class ballistic-missile submarines. It is envisioned as a vital element of the US nuclear deterrence strategy into the late 21st century, complementing air-launched weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles in the nation’s nuclear triad. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the first ship is estimated to cost $15 billion—one of the costliest US weapon systems ever.
Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc and General Dynamics Corp. are building the Columbia. The first submarine is currently about one-third complete. The general accounting office of General Dynamics commented, “The Navy’s ability to manage the program to achieve on-time delivery and is incongruous with the importance it placed on having the lead submarine for its first patrol on time. [Since] no schedule risk analysis has been completed, [Navy and Pentagon] decision makers have yet to be provided detailed information about schedule risk to help inform oversight and buying decisions.”
The GAO report is being withheld from general distribution under the expanding use of the designation of “Controlled Unclassified Information” (or CUI for short) by the Defense Department. In this particular case, the Navy put forth the label to limit public release but is working with the GAO to allow a sanitized version to be made public.
Top Navy officials shared that the program was on track, though it will most likely meet an earlier-than-scheduled delivery date which the officials had hoped to accomplish at the beginning. “I’m optimistic with Columbia that it will stay on pace,” said Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday, “We have to.”
However, the GAO report cast is doubtful of such optimism. It explains that Columbia’s importance gives it priority access to resources that come at the expense of other Navy shipbuilding projects, such as the Virginia-class attack submarine—which is also being built by General Dynamics and Huntington Ingalls. This has led to delivery delays and cost overruns.
GAO is Preparing a Publicly Releasable Version of the Report
“GAO is preparing a publicly releasable version of this report in coordination with the Navy,” explained spokesman Lt Commander Javan Rasnake. “The Navy is following the standard best practice of conducting a rigorous review of the material to ensure operational security is maintained. The Navy will comment on the report when the publicly releasable version is released.” The report is titled “Columbia Class Submarine: Program Lacks Essential Schedule Insight amid Continuing Construction Challenges.”
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