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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Navy Ohio Replacement (SSBN[X]) Ballistic Missile Submarine Program: Background and Issues for Congress



Ronald O'Rourke
Specialist in Naval Affairs

The Navy’s proposed FY2013 budget requests $564.9 million for continued research and development work on the Ohio replacement program (ORP), a program to design and build a new class of 12 ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) to replace the Navy’s current force of 14 Ohioclass SSBNs. The Ohio replacement program is also known as the SSBN(X) program.

Under the Navy’s FY2012 budget, the first Ohio replacement boat was scheduled to be procured in FY2019, and Ohio replacement boats were to enter service on a schedule that would maintain the Navy’s SSBN force at 12 boats. The Navy’s proposed FY2013 budget defers the procurement of the first Ohio replacement boat by two years, to FY2021. As a result of this deferment, the Navy’s SSBN force will drop to 11 or 10 boats for the period FY2029-FY2041.

The Navy in 2011 estimated the average procurement cost of boats 2 through 12 in the Ohio replacement program at $5.6 billion each in FY2010 dollars, and is working to reduce that figure to a target of $4.9 billion each in FY2010 dollars. Even with this cost-reduction effort, observers are concerned about the impact the Ohio replacement program will have on the Navy’s ability to procure other types of ships at desired rates in the 2020s and early 2030s.

Potential oversight issues for Congress for the Ohio replacement program include the following:


  • the reasons for deferring the start of SSBN(X) procurement by two years, to FY2021, the cost and operational impact of this decision, and whether it would be feasible and cost effective to restore the start of procurement to FY2019, as planned under the FY2012 budget; 
  • the plan to design the SSBN(X) with 16 SLBM tubes rather than 20; 
  • 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 Ohio replacement program and its potential impact on funding available for other Navy shipbuilding programs; and 
  • the question of which shipyard or shipyards will build SSBN(X)s. 

This report focuses on the Ohio replacement program 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: October 25, 2012
Number of Pages: 44
Order Number: R41129
Price: $29.95

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