Video Above: Columbia Class Ballistic Missile Submarine
Secretly lurking in the dark depths of the ocean in unknown, yet strategically vital areas of the undersea, US nuclear armed submarines are on a mission to prevent a nuclear attack on the US by sending a message to potential adversaries that a nuclear strike on the US would be met with a catastrophic, devastating and destructive counterattack.
US Navy Columbia-class Nuclear-Armed Ballistic Missile Submarines
With this purpose in view, a new generation of US Navy Columbia-class nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines will launch a first patrol in 2030, a development which now seems much sooner than it may have sounded just a few years ago.
The new fleet of submarines, which have now been under development for more than a decade, are intended to replace the existing Ohio class ballistic missile submarines with a new generation of technology designed to ensure a potential adversary does not contemplate a first-strike nuclear attack on the US.
The first several boats have been under construction for quite some time, and the Navy’s Columbia-class acquisition effort recently won an award for exemplary performance.
“Pre-Commissioning Unit COLUMBIA is scheduled to deliver in 2027 and conduct its first strategic deterrence patrol in 2030,” a Navy report said.
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The Navy has been working with General Dynamics Electric Boat and its industry partners for many years, conducting research, performing science and technology integration and beginning to build the boats “modules.” A technique called “tube-and-hull” forging began many years ago, a process which involved welding four missile tubes together to insert them into the structure of the submarine.
The arrival of Columbia submarines could not come soon enough, as the existing Ohio-class submarines have already been extended for years beyond their anticipated service life. The undersea leg of the triad is considered vital to the US strategic deterrence effort; as it seems likely it might lead a potential attacker to consider the retaliatory consequences of a nuclear strike on the US.
The Columbias are built which what is called a “life-of-core” nuclear reactor, meaning it will sustain optimal functionality throughout the life of the ship and not need to come back to dock for a lengthy refueling mission. This greatly extends mission operational time and deployment continuity, so 12 Columbia class submarines are expected to easily perform the mission of 14 Ohio-class submarines.
The submarines will be armed with upgraded Trident II D5 nuclear-armed missiles and draw upon a host of technologies and innovations built into the Navy’s Block III and beyond Virginia-class attack submarines. Some of these advancements include “fly-by-wire” navigational systems wherein precise speed and depth can be monitored and even automated by a computer systems, depending upon input from a ship Commander.
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The boat will also use a fiber-optic cable and communications systems so sailors will be able to view images from a periscope anywhere else in the ship. A sailor will not need to stand directly below the periscope to see its field of view but will rather be able to see from somewhere else inside the ship.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a master’s degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.