First New Boomer Could Be Delayed Two Years Amid Budget Turmoil, Admiral Warns

by Mike McCarthy

October 25, 2013

Continued sequestration and spending bills based on previous year levels could halve the amount of money required in fiscal 2014 to ramp up toward production of the first ship in the next class of ballistic missile submarines and delay it by as much as two years, the Navy’s top officer for submarine procurement said yesterday.

Rear Adm. David Johnson, the program executive officer for subs, said at the Navy League symposium outside Washington that 2014 is a key year in transitioning to construction, and includes detailed design and prototyping of the submarines and its components, such as missile launch tubes.

Two years ago, the Navy announced plans to delay construction of the first ship of the Ohio-class replacement program, from 2019 to 2021. But that scenario could worsen under the “absurdity of the CR and the sequester,” Johnson said, referring to a continuing resolution that keeps spending at previous year levels.

The military, like the rest of the federal government, has had to live under a CR for most of the last few years because Congress and the Obama administration have been unable to agree on a budget, the main cause of the recent government shutdown. Congress earlier this month passed a bill to keep the government running under a CR until January, but there appears to be no sign lawmakers are close to resolving differences to pass a proper appropriations bill.

Johnson said if sequestration remains in place, it will deprive the SSBN(X) program of $153 million needed in 2014 to forge ahead, but the scenario would be worse under a CR, costing the Navy more than $566 million required to keep the first ship on schedule for 2021 and deployment in 2028.

“It’s disruptive,” he said. “And if we have to live through that level we would be likely two years-plus off an FY '21 lead ship.”

The Navy plans to begin retiring the Ohio-class ballistic subs toward the end of the 2020s and maintains that the replacement program is among its highest acquisition priorities. Navy officials have also expressed concerns that because of the tight budget environment, the SSBN(X) program could place a heavy burden on the rest of its shipbuilding accounts in the 2020s.

The Navy estimates the Ohio-class replacement will cost of average of $6 billion for 12 ships, with the first submarine expected to cost $12 billion, a figure that includes $7.4 billion in construction costs and $4.6 billion for engineering and development.