Navy Official Warns Of Funding Shortfall During SSBN(X) Construction
By Mike McCarthy
April 19, 2012
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- When full-scale production of the next generation of ballistic missile submarines begins in the 2020s, the Navy will still have to come up with the money to pay for other shipbuilding programs or the fleet could be at risk, a senior Navy official said yesterday.
"If we don't, we won't have a Navy in the 2030s," Navy Undersecretary Robert Work said at the Navy League's Sea Air Space Exposition held just outside Washington. Work said the funding of other programs during the construction of the SSBN(X)s is among the concerns that "keep me up at night."
The SSBN(X) is expected to eat up a sizable chunk of the Navy's shipbuilding budget once production begins to replace the current Ohio-class fleet of ballistic missile subs. The first two of the 14 Ohio boomers are scheduled to retire in 2029.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said during budget hearings on Capitol Hill in February the construction of the new class will place a significant burden on funding."When that class is being built, it will clearly have a major impact on the rest of our shipbuilding program," he said (Defense Daily, Feb. 17, 2012). He said each ship is expected to cost at least $5 billion after procurement of the first one.
The Navy announced earlier this year that the procurement of the first of 12 planned SSBN(X)s will be delayed by two years to 2021, meaning there will be a temporary drop to 10 ballistic missile subs during the transition to the next class. Sean Stackley, the Navy's acquisition chief, told the congressional shipbuilding caucus at Navy League yesterday that the delay will save about $8.5 billion during the current decade and will allow more time to mature the design.
Stackley added that the temporary drop to 10 ballistic subs is a "manageable risk" to a key cornerstone of the country's strategic nuclear deterrent.
The Navy remains on target in the design and development of the nuclear propulsion system that will drive the next generation of ballistic missile submarines, the head of Naval Reactors recently said (Defense Daily, Mar. 16, 2011).
Adm. Kirkland Donald told the Senate Armed Services Committee the reactor design has cleared key milestones. He said the reactor core intended to operate for the life of the ship without a mid-life refueling, and is intended to outlast the systems operating in the Ohio class, resulting in a shorter time period for midlife overhaul.