Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) has started advance construction work on Columbia (SSBN 826), the US Navy’s lead ballistic missile submarine.

The first steel plate was cut using a plasma-burning machine during a ceremony at HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding division.

The ceremony was attended by officials from General Dynamics Electric Boat and Newport News.

General Dynamics Electric Boat is the main contractor on the Columbia-class submarine programme that involves building 12 submarines.

The company awarded a contract to Newport News division to conduct advance construction activities for the vessels.

The contract makes Newport News a shipbuilding partner in the programme.

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HII noted that the Columbia-class will be built using fully digital blueprints.

Newport News Columbia-class construction vice-president Jason Ward said: “It has been a half-century since Newport News Shipbuilding has constructed a ballistic submarine.

“Today, we celebrate the decade-plus effort spent working with Electric Boat on the design of this new class of submarine as we formally transition from design to material procurement and now to construction execution.”

The Columbia-class vessels are anticipated to replace the US Navy’s existing fleet of Ohio-class nuclear ballistic submarines.

Ward added: “The first cut of steel is a major construction milestone that signifies our shipyard and submarine industrial base are ready to move forward with production.

“The first cut of steel is a major construction milestone.”

“We have worked to engage the submarine industrial base and leveraged lessons learned from the successful Virginia-class programme to building the Columbia-class submarines in the most efficient and affordable manner to provide the best value to the navy.”

The Columbia-class vessels will be built in Virginia, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Electric Boat is responsible for assembling and delivering all the submarines, with the first boat expected to be delivered to the navy in 2027.

Last week, Electric Boat secured a contract modification from the US Department of Defence (DoD) to expand its supplier base to support Columbia-class submarines and the nuclear shipbuilding enterprise, including Virginia-class and Ford-class.