Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) held a ceremony on May 23 for its first cut-of-steel event to mark the start of advance construction for the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) program.

HII noted this will be the first class of submarines that will be built using fully digital blueprints. The first steel plate will be used in the lead boat, the future USS Columbia (SSN-826). This occured at its Newport News, Va., facility.

Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding started advance construction of the first Columbia-class submarine on May 23, 2019 in a ceremony. (photo: HII)
Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding started advance construction of the first Columbia-class submarine on May 23, 2019 in a ceremony. (photo: HII)

“Today is a historic day,” Jason Ward, NNS’s vice president for Columbia-class construction, said in a statement.

“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,” he added.

The prime contractor for the Columbia is General Dynamics [GD] Electric Boat (GDEB). HII is conducting advanced construction activities under contract for GDEB. HII noted Newport News Shipbuilding is starting advance construction work three weeks ahead of schedule.

The ceremony participants included Ward; John Lennon, vice president of the Columbia-class submarine program at General Dynamics Electric Boat; Capt. Jon Rucker, the Navy’s Columbia program manager; Rear Adm. Scott Pappano, the Navy’s Columbia program executive officer (PEO); and Jennifer Boykin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding.

Ward underscored the first cut of steel is a major milestone that marks the shipyard and submarine industrial base are ready to move toward production.

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

The Navy is having GDEB and HII build 12 Columbia-class submarines to replace the current fleet of 14 Ohio-class SSBNs.

Construction of the new vessels will occur in Virginia, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, but GDEB will conduct final assembly and delivery in Connecticut. SBN-826 is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in 2027.