Navy May Extend Life of Ohio SSBNs to Provide Cushion for Introduction of Columbia-class

The Navy is looking at extending the lives of the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines again – beyond the now 42-year planned life for the SSBNs – to add a little more capability for combatant commanders and a little more cushion in case of delays fielding their replacement.

The Columbia-class SSBNs are on a tight schedule with absolutely no room for error. Any margin in the timeline was eaten up years ago, as the Navy got off to a slow start on the initial design effort. Today, as detail design wraps up and advance construction and now full construction takes place, there’s no room left for delays or else lead ship Columbia (SSBN-826) will miss its planned October 2031 maiden deployment.

The schedule is tight, and it’s unclear how industry will handle building this new class of submarine – which is about 2.5 times the workload to build compared to the Virginia-class attack submarines – plus two Virginia SSNs and the Virginia Payload Module each year.

Though the Navy is not easing up on the pace of Columbia-class construction activities, two admirals today said at the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium that the Ohios will be extended by some amount to smooth out that transition.

“We have programs in place to extend the lives of submarines as much as we technically can. We’re already extending the life of the [Ohio] class to over 40 years of service: this is a testament to the way we designed the ship, the toughness that we build into the ship, and to the way the ships were maintained over the lives of these hulls. While it’s not possible to extend the entire class any further, we are looking at individual hulls to see if we can gain additional months or even a few years to allow us to have greater flexibility in meeting [U.S. Strategic Command] requirements as we transition to Columbia,” Adm. Frank Caldwell, the director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, said in his speech at the conference.

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