Leonardo DRS, a US-based subsidiary of the Italian company Leonardo, has signed a $120m ground lease for land in Charleston, South Carolina, to establish a facility to manufacture naval propulsion systems for the US Navy.

When complete, the company will set up an advanced manufacturing, assembly and testing space across 140,000 square feet (ft) in the coastal region. The supplier aims for initial operating capability in 2026.

Leonardo DRS will build electric propulsion system components for the Navy’s Columbia class nuclear-powered, ballistic missile submarines (SSBN 826).

The 12 new Columbia submarines will support the US strategic deterrent mission, as the SSBN fleet of the US Navy carries 70% of the nation’s operational nuclear weapons.

In October last year, Congress granted the US Department of Defense up to the rate of $621.2m for the procurement of the future USS Wisconsin, the nation’s second Columbia class as production continues into 2024.

Leonardo DRS expands its capacity to deliver on US Government contracts awarded in April 2023 worth more than $1bn to supply integrated electric propulsion parts for the submarines.

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The electric-drive propulsion system onboard the Columbia class SSBN flotilla will include an electric motor driving the propeller of the boat. It is expected to be quieter than a mechanical drive system.

Submarines will use a nuclear reactor to generate energy, which will be converted into electrical power to fuel the electric propulsion motor. The propulsion system will enable the submarine to sail at a speed of more than 20 knots and operate at a depth of 800ft.

A midlife nuclear refuelling will not be necessary as the fuel core will power the SSBN for its entire service life. Each Columbia boat is expected to carry out 124 deterrent patrols during its service life of 42 years.

“This facility in South Carolina expands our capability to support our US Navy customers on this and other critical programmes that enhance the nation’s submarine industrial base,” said Bill Lynn, the company’s CEO.

Leonardo’s components include solid-state drives deisgned and manufcatured in the new DRS Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin facility; electric motors from its Fitchburg, Massachusetts facility; control systems from its Danbury, Connecticut facility; and cooling equipment from its High Ridge, Missouri facility.

Its Charleston facility will have direct access to barge transportation on the local waterway and out to the open ocean for shipping these large assemblies to its shipbuilding customers.