Both the House and Senate defense authorization bills, approved by their respective armed services committees, directed reports and briefings on the Columbia-class submarine program due to schedule and cost concerns.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) draft national Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2020 included several provisions expressing concern for the submarine’s cost and schedule.

Artist rendering of the future Columbia-class nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), which will replace the Ohio-class submarines. (Illustration: U.S. Navy)
Artist rendering of the future Columbia-class nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), which will replace the Ohio-class submarines. (Illustration: U.S. Navy)

By December the Secretary of Navy is to submit a report to the defense committees on the Columbia’s schedule and impact of potential lead ship delays. SASC completed its markup of the FY ’20 NDAA last month (Defense Daily, May 23).

The report must include a description of the current schedule margin and paths for the lead ship to meet its planned delivery and deployment dates; possible risks to the lead vessel’s schedule and the potential schedule impact for each risk; potential operational and shipbuilding impacts as well as mitigation options if the lead ship delivery is delayed by six months to three years; and recommendations for DoD or congressional action to reduce the liklihood or mitigate the impact of schedule delays.

The SASC bill report directed this action in the context of two Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports over the last year. One report assessing the Navy’s shipbuilding performance over the last decade found the eight most recently delivered lead combatant vessels were delivered at least six months late and several were over two years late (Defense Daily, June 12, 2018).

The bill report noted an April GAO report found issues with critical new systems have eroded lead ship margin “such that there is less time available to address issues without resulting in overall lead ship schedule delays.”

The GAO said the Navy’s estimate that the Columbia’s procurement cost will be limited to $115 billion is overly optimistic about labor hour assumptions (Defense Daily, April 8).

The lead Columbia submarine is scheduled to be delivered in FY 2028 and deployed in 2031, when it will start replacing the Ohio-class nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines.

Separately, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) bill included an amendment by Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) in the approved en bloc amendment package directing a classified briefing on funding requirements for inadequately funding strategic weapons on ballistic missile submarines.

The House provision focused more on potential issues in Columbia strategic weapons rather than the submarine itself. The provision argued if critical programs in the Trident II (D5) nuclear weapon system are delayed further, the Columbia may be without a critical subsystems or cyber requirements.

The amendment said if cuts are made to “critical and necessary programs” like Increment 8 navigator upgrades systems, the Increment 15 required network cross-domain solutions capability for cyber requirements, and Life Extension 2 funding the Navy’s ability to field the weapon on the Columbia boats is “at significant risk.”

All of these issues could also adversely affect U.S. agreements with the U.K. because their in-development Dreadnaught-class ballistic missile submarine will share Columbia’s missile tubes and Trident II.

To that end, the committee directs the Navy Secretary to provide a classified briefing to the HASC by December 2019 “on the ramifications of failing to adequately fund its strategic weapons system.”