Pentagon budget 2015: Submarines continue to reign supreme in USN’s shipbuilding funds request

Grace Jean, Washington, DC – IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly
06 March 2014

The USN’s first Block III Virginia-class submarine North Dakota (SSN 784) rolls out from Electric Boat’s production facility in Groton, Connecticut. It is expected to conduct sea trials in April 2014 ahead of delivery in May 2014. Source: General Dynamics Electric Boat

The US Navy (USN) will continue to fund the acquisition of two Virginia-class fast attack submarines per year from fiscal year 2015 (FY 2015) through FY 2019 while it ramps up design work on the Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine replacement programme.

In FY 2015 the navy is requesting USD5.88 billion to acquire two Block IV Virginia-class submarines along with advance procurement for future boats as part of the multi-year procurement (MYP) contract for up to 10 submarines in FY 2014-18.

The requested budget also provides USD73 million for efforts to improve the Virginia-class Block IV electronic systems, reduce total ownership costs, as well as develop improved silencing capability. It also includes USD133 million for platform design efforts on the Block V boats that are scheduled to begin construction in 2019. The design includes the Virginia Payload Module (VPM), a 70-foot hull section insert with payload tubes that will increase strike payload capacity for Tomahawk land-attack and follow-on missiles.

Kurt Hesch, vice-president and Virginia-class programme manager at General Dynamics Electric Boat, told IHS Jane’s on 5 March that the focus is on getting the VPM design off to a good start now that the USN’s requirements have been sorted out.

“We’ll start ramping that up about mid-year with designers, making sure we’re at a measured, steady pace this year, getting requirements to specifications done,” Hesch said. “We’re trying to work our way through making sure we don’t change the rest of the ship unless we really have to. That’s where the cost would start to go up. That discipline will be very important – not to do something because we have new stuff going on.”

As part of its FY 2015 budget the navy is requesting USD1.2 billion for the Ohio-class replacement programme (ORP), split between research and development efforts on the propulsion plant, missile compartment, and platform technologies such as propulsor, electric actuation, ship and manoeuvring controls, and signatures; joint development of missile launch technologies with the UK; and design for affordability efforts to reduce programme costs.

Thus far, Electric Boat – the prime contractor selected to design the Ohio-class replacement submarine under a five-year USD1.85 billion contract awarded in January 2013 – is proceeding through the technology development phase.

The team in 2014 is completing the ship specifications and developing system descriptions and diagrams, Will Lennon, Electric Boat’s vice-president of engineering and design programmes, told IHS Jane’s on 5 March at a Submarine Industrial Base Coalition event in Washington, DC. Then starting in 2015, he said, it will create the 3-D product model, which lays out the physical arrangement of the submarine.

Work on the Common Missile Compartment – a joint US-UK effort for the USN’s ORP and the UK Royal Navy’s Successor-class ballistic-missile submarine – is going well, according to Lennon. The USN expects acquisition for the lead Ohio-replacement submarine to commence in FY 2021. However, the UK’s Successor-class submarine programme is expected to proceed through a ‘Main Gate’ decision in 2016, which would give approval and secure commitment to go into full development and manufacture.

“That puts a lot of acceleration and pressure on the programme, because everyone’s thinking you don’t have to have the design done until 2021,” said Lennon. “In reality, we need to have it done about six years in advance for the Common Missile Compartment, because we will build and qualify the manufacturing process, in how you build that missile compartment in the US, before the UK … starts ship construction.”

The submarine industrial base is already at work, he said, with Electric Boat beginning to buy long-lead materiel for the effort. In November, the company expects contracts to be let to start fabrication of the first 17 missile tubes – 12 for the UK, 4 for the United States to qualify the manufacturing process, and 1 for installment in a test facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

In the meantime, Electric Boat has placed vendors under contract to develop fixtures to support that fabrication process.

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