As political tension in Washington thaws after Congress approved a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown, which seemed inevitable only a few days earlier, the Columbia class submarine programme will continue unimpeded as we enter FY2024.
Congress granted the US Department of Defense (DoD) up to the rate of $621.2m for the procurement of the future USS Wisconsin, the nation’s second Columbia class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN).
The 12 new Columbia submarines will support the US strategic deterrent mission, as the SSBN fleet of the US Navy (USN) carries 70% of the nation’s operational nuclear weapons.
Delays in US submarine industrial base to be expected in FY24
While the USN aims to have its first deterrent patrol in 2031, a growing list of issues have caused delays to Columbia boat production.
After more than a year of full-scale construction on the first Columbia submarine, USS District of Columbia, the shipbuilders are facing delays because of challenges with design, materials and quality.
To combat this, the shipbuilder added staff originally working on the Virginia submarine fleet to the Columbia programme – which has now left Virginia with delays.
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This solution is unsustainable, and the US Government Accountability Office has recommended conducting a more insightful schedule risk analysis:
“Without updated long-term planning, the USN cannot be certain that the FY2024 budget request will be sufficient to meet the production schedule it has planned for both submarine classes.”
US submarine acquisition process becomes “platform-centric” to accommodate Columbia programme
Preventive measures are already being taken to ensure the smooth procurement of the Columbia class – a platform with “priority status”.
On 1 October, the Naval Sea Systems Command announced that the submarine acquisition community will be restructured from a competency to a “platform-centric organisation.” This change ensures that all decisions are aligned with and do not impact ongoing Columbia construction.
The change realigns two Program Executive Offices (PEOs) and initiates a third to better support submarine acquisition, operational capability and availability.
“Aligning submarine acquisition and sustainment along platform lines, with cradle-to-grave ownership and accountability, is the most effective way to tackle the challenges we face and provide the nation with the most lethal undersea force possible,” Rear Admiral Scott Pappano, PEO Strategic Submarines (formerly PEO Columbia), stated.