Overly optimistic cost estimate will likely lead to budget increases
Warship Technology: May 2019
The US Navy needs the new class of submarines because it will start taking Ohio class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines out of service in 2027. It is relying on its new Columbia class submarines to replace them. However, the schedule for construction and delivery of the first submarine is aggressive and leaves little room for error.
What is more, the US Navy’s cost estimate to construct 12 Columbia class submarines – US$115 billion – ‘is not realistic’ according to the GAO report, because it is based on several overly optimistic assumptions, such as the amount of labour needed for construction.
According to the US Navy, the lead Columbia class submarine will need to make its first patrol in fiscal year 2031 in order to avoid a ‘deterrence gap.’ It has identified the Columbia class programme as its top acquisition priority and has set an aggressive schedule to deliver the lead submarine in fiscal year 2027, followed by a period of testing before the first patrol occurs.
Design efforts continue, alongside plans to begin advance construction of some of the submarine’s components in fiscal year 2019.
In light of the importance of the deterrence mission and the cost and schedule pressures facing the Columbia class programme, the House Armed Services Committee report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 included a provision that the GAO examine the programme to include, among other things, technology development, design progress, and program cost estimates. The act also included a requirement for the US Navy to prepare and submit details of the programme’s design and construction goals and progress and included a provision that the GAO assess these matrices.