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Thursday, August 8, 2013

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 FY2014 budget requests $1,083.7 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 FY2013 budget deferred the procurement of the first Ohio replacement boat by two years, to FY2021. The Navy’s proposed FY2014 budget maintains FY2021 as the procurement date for the lead boat. As a result of the deferment of the procurement of the lead boat from FY2019 to FY2021, the Navy’s SSBN force will drop to 11 or 10 boats for the period FY2029-FY2041. The Navy says the decline to 11 or 10 boats during this period will be acceptable in terms of meeting strategic nuclear deterrent mission requirements because none of the 11 or 10 boats during that period will be encumbered by lengthy maintenance actions.

The Navy in May 2013 estimated the procurement cost of the lead ship in the program at $12.0 billion in constant 2013 dollars, including $4.6 billion in detailed design and nonrecurring engineering (DD/NRE) costs for the entire class, and $7.4 billion in construction costs for the ship itself. The Navy in May 2013 estimated the average procurement cost of boats 2 through 12 in the Ohio replacement program at about $5.4 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 impact on the program of the March 1, 2013, sequester on FY2013 funding and unobligated prior-year funding for the program; 
  • the potential impact on the program of a possible sequester later this year or early next year on FY2014 funding and unobligated prior-year funding for the program; 
  • 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: August 6, 2013
Number of Pages: 48
Order Number: R41129
Price: $29.95

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