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Monday, April 25, 2011

Navy SSBN(X) Ballistic Missile Submarine Program: Background and Issues for Congress

Ronald O'Rourke
Specialist in Naval Affairs

The Navy’s ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) form one leg of the U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent force, or “triad,” which also includes land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and land-based long-range bombers. The Navy currently operates 14 Ohio (SSBN-726) class SSBNs, also known as Trident SSBNs, the first of which is projected to reach the end of its service life in 2027.

The Navy is conducting development and design work on a planned class of 12 next-generation ballistic missile submarines, or SSBN(X)s, which the service wants to procure as replacements for the 14 Ohio-class boats. The SSBN(X) program is also known as the Ohio-class replacement program (ORP). The Navy’s proposed FY2012 budget requests $1,067 million in research and development funding for the program. Navy plans call for procuring the first SSBN(X) in FY2019, with advance procurement funding for the boat beginning in FY2015.

The Navy in February 2010 preliminarily estimated the procurement cost of each SSBN(X) at $6 billion to $7 billion in FY2010 dollars. The Navy is now working to reduce the average procurement cost of boats 2-12 in the program to a target figure of $4.9 billion each in FY2010 dollars. Even with this cost-reduction effort, some observers are concerned that procuring 12 SSBN(X)s during the 15-year period FY2019-FY2033, as called for in Navy plans, could lead to reductions in procurement rates for other types of Navy ships during those years.

Potential oversight issues for Congress for the SSBN(X) program include the following: 
  • the likelihood that the Navy will be able to reduce the average procurement cost of boats 2-12 in the program to the target figure of $4.9 billion each in FY2010 dollars; 
  • the accuracy of the Navy’s estimate of the procurement cost of each SSBN(X); 
  • the prospective affordability of the SSBN(X) program and its potential impact on other Navy shipbuilding programs; and 
  • the question of which shipyard or shipyards will build SSBN(X)s. 
Options for reducing the cost of the SSBN(X) program or its potential impact on other Navy shipbuilding programs include procuring fewer than 12 SSBN(X)s; reducing the number of submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) to be carried by each SSBN(X); stretching out the schedule for procuring SSBN(X)s and making greater use of split funding (i.e., two-year incremental funding) in procuring them; and funding the procurement of SSBN(X)s in a part of the Department of Defense (DOD) budget that is outside the Navy’s budget.

This report focuses on the SSBN(X) as a Navy shipbuilding program. CRS Report RL33640, U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues, by Amy F. Woolf, discusses the SSBN(X) as an element of future U.S. strategic nuclear forces in the context of strategic nuclear arms control agreements.

Date of Report: April 12, 2011
Number of Pages: 33
Order Number: R41129
Price: $29.95

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