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US Navy orders first new missile sub

An artist rendering of the future Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines. (U.S. Navy illustration/Released)

The U.S. Navy on Thursday placed a $9.4 billion order with General Dynamics Electric Boat for the first Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine.

The deal includes money to finish construction of the future USS Columbia and buy materials for the future USS Wisconsin, the second of the new class of missile subs that will replace the Ohio class.

The Columbia-class “will be the largest, most advanced, most capable submarine ever produced by this nation,” Rear Adm. Scott Pappano, program executive officer for Columbia, said during a briefing with reporters.

The Navy and Electric Boat have been building prototypes of unique parts of the new submarine for a number of years.

“We’ve done quite a bit of early advanced procurement and construction to shake out the defense industrial base,” Pappano said.

Welding problems were found in the early missile tubes. Suppliers have delivered 13 missile tubes, Pappano said.

The Columbia class — which will carry Trident nuclear-tipped missiles — is the Navy’s top acquisition project. They will mark one-third of the U.S. nuclear triad, which also includes long-range bombers that can carry nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Submarines are considered the most survivable leg of the triad since they are difficult to track.

Thursday’s contract will allow Electric Boat to continue hiring workers. The company is projected to hire about 3,000 new workers for the project over the next decade for both the Columbia and Virginia-class submarine projects, Kevin Graney president of General Dynamics Electric Boat said.

“We’ve been hiring effectively since about 2017 and we’re going to continue,” he said.

General Dynamics is investing $1.8 billion in its Groton, Connecticut, shipyard.

“We’re through about probably two-thirds of that investment currently,” Graney said. “We’re going to continue to invest and complete some of the work that we’ve already begun. But this is by far the largest investment we’ve made in the facility in our history to prepare for simultaneous Virginia and Columbia construction.”

It’s the third big nuclear weapon contract awarded by the Pentagon this year. In April the Air Force chose Raytheon over Lockheed Martin to build a new long-range nuclear cruise missile. Then in September the Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a $13.3 billion deal to start building new ICBMs that will replace the Cold War-era Minuteman III. Northrop is also building the B-21, a new stealth bomber being developed in secret since 2015.

Congress gave the Navy special permission to award Thursday’s submarine contract because lawmakers have not passed defense authorization of appropriations bills for fiscal 2021, which began on Oct. 1.

“That allowed us to award this contract on schedule, which was very important so we can keep this high priority program on track,” James “Hondo” Geurts, the head of Navy acquisition, said on the call.

The Navy is not expected to place its full order for the second submarine until fiscal 2024, Geurts said. It plans to buy at least 12 Columbia-class ships, which are expected to remain in the fleet until the 2080s.


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