The Navy has been able to reduce the cost of the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine by $80 million per unit and the program remains on schedule, a top Navy acquisition official said last week.

Rear Adm. Michael Jabaley, Program Executive Officer (PEO) for Submarines, said Nov. 2 that after the Columbia program reached Milestone B in late 2016 and transitioned to the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase, average procurement unit cost (APUC) was $7.3 billion.

Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Louisiana (SSBN 743). Photo: U.S. Navy
Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Louisiana (SSBN 743). Photo: U.S. Navy

That was the average cost across all planned 12 boomers set to be produced, in 2017 dollars, Jabaley said at the 2017 Annual Naval Submarine League Symposium.

The Columbia program has an affordability cap assigned at $8 billion per unit, 110 percent of the APUC achieved. However, Jabaley highlighted that in the year since Milestone B was achieved, PEO Submarines has reduced the cost by $80 million per hull, down to $7.1 billion.

He said this was done through a combination of innovative legislative authority and contracting techniques. This includes missile tube continuous production construction and advanced construction.

Missile tube continuous production refers to the ongoing development of the Common Missile Compartment, which will be integrated into both Columbia-class and the UK Royal Navy Dreadnought-class ballistic missile sub. Continuous production of the tubes aims to keep manufacturing rates level for producers despite differing acquisition timelines for the U.S. and UK navies.

“Really the focus of that was to reduce the risk of not delivering on time. But it had an added benefit of savings as well,” Jabaley said.

He added that the initial Integrated Product and Process Development (IPDD) contract awarded in September included significant cost reduction incentives for the lead ship  (Defense Daily, Sept. 21). This incentivizes the shipbuilders to do all that they can to continue refining designs and methods inside the shipyards, thus adding savings to the rest of the submarines as well.

The $5.1 billion design program was awarded to the submarine building division of General Dynamics [GD] with Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] as a partner doing about 13 percent of the design work at its Newport News Shipbuilding division.

Jabaley noted the services is trying to get the APUC below $7 billion through the incentive, additional legislative authorities they are pursuing, and working on funding with the Navy to provide for continuous production of items beyond missile tubes.

He said that is a “stretch goal” but they are trying to do everything then can to increase the program’s margin for both cost and schedule given how important and costly it is.

He also said that although official construction of Columbia is set to start in 2021, they will start building key early components in 2019 using advanced procurement and construction authority under 2016 legislation.

The Columbia-class submarines will replace the maturing Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines. Last January the Navy said the 12 submarines are expected to cost about $100 billion total (Defense Daily, Jan. 9).

The first ship is planned to embark on its first patrol in fiscal year 2031.