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Columbia-class subs strain Navy budget

An artist rendering of the future Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines. The 12 submarines of the Columbia class are a shipbuilding priority and will replace the Ohio-class submarines reaching maximum extended service life. The Columbia-class Program Executive Office is on track to begin construction with USS Columbia (SSBN 826) in fiscal year 2021, deliver in fiscal year 2028, and on patrol in 2031. (U.S. Navy illustration/Released)

The cost to build the next generation of ballistic missile submarines is forcing the Navy to make tough decisions about what other projects to delay.

The Columbia-class submarines will replace the aging Ohio-class boats at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay and in Bangor, Wash.

The first boat will eat up $14 billion — 70 percent — of the Navy’s proposed 2021 shipbuilding budget. It means the Navy will have to delay plans to build a Virginia-class fast-attack submarine, aircraft, missiles, emergency repairs to sealift ships and other projects.

Sheila McNeill, president of Camden Partnership and former National Navy League president, said construction of the replacement fleet of ballistic missile submarines is a priority.

“There are certainly concerns on the fast attack fleet,” she said. “However, the Columbia-class should not have the same fate. Replacing the Ohio-class is the No. 1 issue of the Defense Department.”

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McNeill said the construction costs for the first boat in a new fleet is always more costly than building the following vessels.

In all, it’s estimated to cost $115 billion to design and build the 12 submarines that will replace the existing fleet of ballistic missile submarines. The vessels are considered a vital deterrent to nuclear attack.

McNeill said the sea services are essential to this nation’s military.

“We are a maritime nation, so ships are essential to our security,” she said. “When I was national Navy League president in 2005, the Navy’s goal was 255 ships as necessary for our national defense. We still aren’t there yet.”

The first boat, USS Columbia, is expect to arrive at Kings Bay later this decade. An $840 million construction project is planned at Kings Bay to prepare of the arrival of the new subs. An estimated 1,000 employees will be hired for the work on base.

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