The Ohio Replacement Program is still the Navy’s top priority, and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert plans to meet with lawmakers after the elections to continue to rally support for the high-cost but critical program.

Speaking at the Naval Submarine League’s annual conference on Thursday, Greenert said that the replacement for the Ohio-class SSBN subs is not just a Navy priority, but a Defense Department and a national priority.

The SSBN(X) will replace Ohio-class ballistic subs. Photo: U.S. Navy
The SSBN(X) will replace Ohio-class ballistic subs.
Photo: U.S. Navy

“That is our number one program. That is the one that we have to get right,” he said, noting that doing so will require funding outside the Navy’s shipbuilding account or else the rest of the Navy’s fleet will face serious consequences. The shipbuilding account receives about $15 billion a year from Congress; the first Ohio-replacement will cost about $9 billion, followed two years later by a $6.5 billion boat, and eventually “if we’re lucky, we hold it at 5, one-third of the shipbuilding budget,” Greenert said. That strain on the shipbuilding account is not sustainable, he made clear.

“I think we need to educate the essence of what it takes to do such a complicated thing, certainly on the Hill,” Greenert said during a question and answer session when asked what communities might not yet understand the importance of the nuclear-missile submarine program.

He went on to say that the lawmakers from New England are highly supportive of the program, but others don’t understand why the Navy can’t just build more Ohio-class subs instead of designing a new program, and some people don’t understand why new subs need to be built at all.

“They’ll have people who are advocates who will say, listen, we’ve got to get this thing going, and others will say, well, I don’t want to do that,” Greenert said of Congress. He added he had meetings planned with lawmakers once Congress reconvenes after the election to try to ramp up support for the program.

The CNO also called on all Navy ship programs to do their part to keep costs down as everyone tries to find a way to fund the Ohio-replacement alongside other needs. Those working on the SSBN replacement can’t just relax knowing their program is the top priority; rather, “there’s a tremendous pressure here and if you love your Navy…we have got to work on building the most efficient and effective Ohio Replacement. But we’re going to build it.”

“The pressure is on the other programs, other shipbuilding programs,” too, he said. The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) needs to keep its costs under control, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers need to continue to advance in a modular and open-systems way to allow for affordable improvements over the coming decades, and the Navy needs to figure out how to pursue an LX(R) dock landing ship replacement in a smart and cost-conscious way.

“We very much would like to build the same hull, use the same hull shape, as the LPD-17. Makes sense–same systems, same training, same maintenance scheme,” Greenert said. But the Navy and shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Inc. [HII] would need to “descope” the ship’s capabilities and find a way to bridge current LPD production to LX(R) design and production later in the decade to keep costs down.