Defense Officials have been calling on lawmakers to fund upgrades to America’s nuclear deterrent infrastructure, or nuclear triad, for years now.  The triad, which is made up of airborne, ballistic missile, and submarine based launch platforms is intended to ensure no first strike could neuter America’s nuclear response, ensuring the mutual portion of the classic strategy of mutually assured destruction.

Last month, the U.S. Air Force announced the awarding of two “technology maturation and risk reduction” contracts for America’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent ICBM weapon system program, which will task Boeing and Northrop Grumman with developing a new long-range ballistic missile platform to replace the aging working horse Minuteman III, and now the U.S. Navy is following suit.  This week, the Navy announced that it will be awarding a massive $5 billion contract to General Dynamics’ Electric Boat out of Connecticut to complete the design of what promises to be America’s next generation of nuclear submarines.

The contract calls for the construction of 12 all new Columbia class ballistic-missile submarines that will replace America’s current fleet of 14 aging Ohio class subs, which were also built by General Dynamics Electric Boat starting in 1976.  The current fleet of underwater warships first entered service in 1981, and are expected to reach the end of their service life within the next few years.

The Ohio-class strategic deterrent submarine is going to reach the end of its operational life here in the next decade, so it’s extremely important for the Columbia detailed design and construction to proceed so that ship is built and delivered to the Navy in time,” Will Lennon, Electric Boat’s vice president for the Columbia-class submarine program, said.

That $5 billion investment won’t secure the purchase of the new nuclear fleet, but is instead intended to finance the remainder of the design development process before construction can begin.  All told, 12 Columbia class submarines, which promise to be the most advanced combat submarines ever to set sail, will cost the American taxpayer more than $100 billion.

Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat out of Connecticut, championed the investment, saying that it enables “the final locking in of how the ship is going to be actually built.”  His district includes Groton, Connecticut, where the subs will be built.

U.S. Air Force awards contracts to develop new nuclear ICBMs to replace aging Minuteman IIIs

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Despite all the drama surrounding budgets and debates in Washington, this program is moving forward without any interference or delay,” Courtney said Thursday. “This is another strong indication that both the Navy and Congress are serious about making sure these boats are ready for when the time comes for the replacement of the old class.”

With this new class of submarine will also come a slight shift in the management of America’s nuclear arsenal within the triad, as these subs are expected to carry a higher percentage of the nation’s permitted overall nuclear armament as compared to their predecessors.  Limits on the maximum number of nuclear warheads the U.S. may employ were set by the 2010 agreement negotiated between the Obama administration and Russia as a part of the New Start treaty.

A subsequent contract to fund the overall construction of these submarines is expected to be forthcoming in 2021, with the first subs entering service by 2028.

 

Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy