NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. –The Navy signed off on the specifications of the Ohio-replacement ballistic missile submarine in the first week of April, giving program officials six and a half years before construction of the lead ship to refine the design and continue lowering the cost to its “should-cost” goal of $4.9 billion per boat.
Ohio-replacement program manager Capt. William Brougham said during a briefing at the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space conference that he had hoped to finish the ship specification document last year, but the window between signing the document and beginning construction is still more than double that of the Virginia-class submarines.
Among the details in the ship specifications is the length – 560 feet and 0.65 inches, Brougham said. That length was chosen to optimize the submarine’s stealth, and it is a bit longer than originally envisioned–though Brougham said it wouldn’t necessarily add cost and may in fact lower the cost if it gives the shipbuilders a little extra room to more efficiently pack all the equipment inside and build the hull in a modular way.
Program officials, including the Program Executive Officer for Submarines Rear Adm. David Johnson, said at the conference the ship’s most recent cost estimate is an average of $5.36 billion for ship hulls 2-12 in the class in 2010 dollars. The average during the Milestone A review was $5.6 billion, and Johnson said the Navy is trying to “do some things outside of what I would consider our normal acquisition framework” to continue lowering that figure.
For example, he said the Navy is looking at the feasibility of lumping in materials from the lead ship with a block buy of nine Virginia-class submarines to get a better cost.
“If we can figure a way to bundle economic order quantity material for like components or the close components…that will help us greatly lower the ship acquisition costs,” he said. Johnson noted that, regardless of whatever else happens with the budget, the Ohio-replacement class would definitely be built – on time and to the full 12-ship class – due to its necessity as part of the nuclear triad, and that that level of certainty ought to count for something when negotiating with vendors.
Brougham said during his briefing that his office is also looking at multiyear procurement contracts that start with the lead ship in the class rather than the second. Typically, the Navy wants to see that something works well before ordering more of them, but in this case, Brougham said there is no time to wait with so much pressure to keep costs down.
During a Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee hearing on April 10, Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley elaborated on the idea of a joint cross-class block buy contract for Ohio-replacement and Virginia subs but cautioned that it is “very preliminary to be talking about how we buy the Ohio replacement.”
“Nothing has been decided yet. That’s a 2021 boat, it’s 2014.” The idea in starting these talks now, he said, is to ensure that the two shipyards involved, General Dynamics Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding, don’t invest in the same tools and infrastructure needed for the new ship class but instead invest in complementary infrastructure.
“We’re going to look at all the piece parts, and we’re going to build a strategy that best fits cost, quality and schedule – where for the Ohio-replacement quality and schedule are premium,” Stackley said.
He added that the Ohio-replacement sub would be about twice as large as the Virginia-class subs, so in many cases the equipment will differ. But where feasible, there is no sense in redesigning a part that already exists in the Virginia-class and could be reused. So, early as it is in the process, the Navy and two shipyards are taking a close look at these issues to find places to save money.
Johnson said during his presentation that as the Navy and contractors find places to save in both the design costs and the lifetime operations and sustainment costs of the submarine, they are logging the savings in a joint database that is being used to track progress toward the $4.9-billion “should-cost” target. “We’re essentially pre-negotiating our costs,” he said of the openness of the cost database, an idea that came from the Virginia-class program.
In another effort to keep the overall program on track, Brougham said he will leave this month as program manager and be replaced by senior executive service official who will take over as a “program director.” Jack Evans, a flag-officer equivalent who used to work at PEO Subs before moving to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, will have a wider visibility to keep the hull, the missile compartments and all the various technologies aligned, Brougham said.