By Emelie Rutherford

The head of a House panel is raising serious concerns about the analysis behind the Navy’s $85 billion Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine replacement, and told the defense secretary he may push to deny funding for it.

House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee Chairman Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) said he is concerned by “the manner in which Navy has determined that the only acceptable solution to replacing the capability of the Ohio-class strategic submarine is to utilize the Trident II D5 weapons system and build another Ohio-type submarine.”

The Navy plans to buy 12 SSBN(X)s from fiscal year 2019 to FY ’33 at a cost of $6 billion to $7 billion each in FY ’10 dollars; that figure is roughly half of the service’s annual shipbuilding budget.

In an April 22 letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Taylor said he wants to know more about whether the Navy considered a less-expensive alternative to the rebuilding the SSBN Ohio-class submarine, such as modifying the existing Virginia-class submarine and using a smaller missile.

He charged that with the new SSBN(X) effort the Navy did not follow the normal acquisition procedure of conducting an analysis of alternatives (AoA) to determine the type of platform and weapons system needed to support a capability spelled out in an Initial Capabilities Document (ICD). The Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council (JROC) approved the Sea Based Strategic Deterrence ICD in June 2008, but Taylor charged the Navy made the decision to replace the Ohio-class submarine with the same type of vessel with the same weapons system before the AoA started.

Taylor said the AoA was completed last year but the Navy has not shared it with him because it said final approvals were not yet granted. Taylor asked Gates to direct the Navy to deliver the completed AoA to Congress, and suggested he could push to withhold funding for it in the FY ’11 budget now under review by Congress.

“Since none of the analysis conducted by the Navy has been made available to the Congress for review I am not inclined to recommend to the Seapower and Expeditionary Forces subcommittee, or the full Armed Services Committee, that the House support the fiscal year 2011 request for this program,” Taylor wrote.

The very first research and development funding for the future SSBN(X) program, totaling $495 million, appeared in the current FY ’10 budget. The Navy has requested $672.3 million in further research and development funding for SSBN(X) in FY ’11.

The congressman said he will request the full House Armed Services Committee (HASC) conduct a “thorough investigation of how this program apparently bypassed acquisition requirement and commenced System Design and Development in advance of a Milestone A decision.”

He called for a HASC hearing “to determine the true national requirement for seas based nuclear deterrence,” during which he wants a “frank discussion on the various options to provide sea based nuclear deterrence and the cost and capability trade-offs” that Congress should weigh.

Taylor also cited the fundamental concern about funding the SSBN(X), which lawmakers and Pentagon officials have said will overwhelm the Navy’s shipbuilding budget later this decade.

The “inordinate share of shipbuilding funds required for the SSBN(X)” starting next decade will decrease the size of the fleet by a net of 32 vessels in the late 2020s and early 2030s, he said. That is of concern because the Navy is slated to grow to a fleet of 320 ships in FY ’24, up from 287 vessels now, and lawmakers such as Taylor do not want to see that ship tally quickly drop.

The congressman also asked Gates to explain what “the basis for the nuclear deterrent requirement actually entails.”

“In other words, how much capability is enough?” he wrote.

The new Strategic Arms Reduction (START) treaty President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed this month, along with the Pentagon’s new Nuclear Posture Review, support current plans for the SSBN(X) effort.

Still, Gates has joined lawmakers in acknowledging the Ohio-class replacement submarine will be a budget-buster.

“When that program really begins to ramp up, in the latter part of this decade, it will suck all the air out of the Navy’s shipbuilding program,” Gates told the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee on March 24. “And so some tough choices are going to have to be made, either in terms of more investment or choices between the size of surface fleets you want and the submarine fleets.”