The first ship of America’s next-generation ballistic missile submarine fleet has officially been named USS Columbia. The ship will cruise the oceans of the world carrying a lethal load of long-range nuclear-tipped missiles, providing a lethal second strike capability designed to discourage enemies from launching a surprise attack.

Nuclear ballistic missile submarines make up one leg of the U.S. nuclear “triad.” Along with bombers planes and ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, missile submarines give war planners options for deterring—and if necessary, fighting—a nuclear war. The stealthy nature of submarines makes them a perfect place to hide missiles from enemy attack, ensuring that they can survive a surprise attack to launch a devastating response. More than any other arm of the triad, missile submarines deter war by ensuring a revenge attack is possible.

The current generation of ballistic missile sub, the Ohio-class, was built in the 1980s and 1990s. The boats are reaching the ends of their service lives and replacements are needed. The Columbia class will start replacing those boats starting in 2031. Twelve Columbias will be built to replace fourteen Ohios. The Navy claims that a more efficient nuclear power plant that won’t require refueling will allow twelve ships to do the same job as fourteen, lowering the overall cost of the program.

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