General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic said yesterday the company has finished designing Columbia-class submarines for the US Navy and could begin construction of the boats in late 2020.

The submarines were previously scheduled to begin construction in 2021, putting the vessels development ahead of schedule at a time when other major US Navy programmes are facing delays.

The Columbia-Class submarines are due to replace the US Navy’s existing Ohio-Class ballistic missile submarines on a like-for-like basis as the boats are taken out of service. Speaking at Baird Global Industrial Conference in Chicago, Novakovic said they are ‘far ahead’ with Columbia and are ‘really ready’ to build.

She explained that a priority for the Columbia was speed and efficiency to stop the navy losing capability. Construction plans for the boats are also close to competition according to Novakovic.

Novakovic added that the company’s Electric Boat division, which runs its submarine business, could double in size as its focus shifts to building the Columbia boats.

General Dynamics Electric Boat says the Columbia vessels will operate through the next 60 years until 2080 and will provide ‘cost-effective, state-of-the-art design and technology to ensure survivability’.

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The 560-foot (170m) long vessels will be capable of diving over 800 feet (243m) and carry the nuclear-armed Trident II D5 ballistic missile system. In support of Columbia’s development, General Dynamics has invested heavily in Electric Boat, hiring new personnel and upgrading facilities.

The first boat is set to be built on a cost-plus basis, with the final details of the contract with the US Navy yet to be decided.

General Dynamics Electric Boat unit is currently working on the Virginia-Class Submarine programme for the US Navy. Novakovic added that the company had learned from its 20 years of work on Virginia to streamline the development and manufacturing of the Columbia-Class submarines.

General Dynamics is expected to deliver 12 Columbia-Class boats in total to the US Navy.