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The Secretary of the Navy says production and development of the high-priority, nuclear-armed Columbia-class submarines are “on track” as the service works to usher in a new, technological advanced era of undersea strategic deterrence.
Columbia-Class and Ohio-class Submarines
Speaking to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee - Defenses, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro did emphasize to lawmakers that the service is making a specific effort to extend and upgrade the existing Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines to the extent needed as the new fleet of Columbia boats arrive.
Development of the Columbia-class boats has been successfully underway for many years, as early Science and Technology work and even production such as “tube and hull” forging was underway more than 10-to-15 years ago in Groton, Ct. Tube and hull forging is when missile tubes are welded into 4-packs before being inserted into so-called “modules” or building blocks for what becomes a completed submarine.
Nevertheless, while progress has been steady, encouraging and “on track,” the first Columbia-class patrol is scheduled for 2031 and the first boat will be delivered in 2028.
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The Ohio class boats, armed with nuclear-capable Trident II D5 missiles, have been in commission since the early 80s and have already been extended well beyond their originally anticipated service life. This is one of many reasons why the Pentagon refers to the Columbia-class submarine as its number one acquisition priority. The Navy wants to make sure there is no “lapse” or readiness deficit when it comes to undersea nuclear deterrence, something which is not surprisingly taking on new levels of urgency in light of Putin’s threats.
Del Toro said the Navy was working to “make sure there are no gaps between Ohio and Columbia,” in response to concerns about the Columbia submarines expressed by Sen. John Hoeven, D-N.D. Del Toro added the service was looking “boat-to-boat” to see what extensions might be possible for the Ohio-class.
The Ohio class has, by all estimations, served admirably and the boats of course continue to secretly patrol strategically vital waters to ensure catastrophic retaliation in the event of a nuclear attack upon the US. The mission is as clear as it is paradoxical …. ensure the possibility of complete annihilation by the most lethal weapons ever to exist in the history of mankind as a way to “keep the peace.”
Despite their longevity and success, the Ohio-class submarines are certainly aging and approaching obsolescence, a key reason why the Columbia-class boats incorporate a new generation of technologies. Of course many of the technologies built into the Columbia are not discussed for security reasons, there are a handful of key innovations senior Navy leaders have made reference to in recent years.
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The boat is built with an electric drive to improve the efficiency of propulsion and also introduce new levels of “quieting” technologies designed to reduce the acoustic signature of the boats, making them less detectable to enemies. The Columbia-class submarines are also built with an “X” shaped stern for added maneuverability and quieting advantages. Interestingly, the Columbia-class submarines also incorporate several innovations originally designed for Block III Virginia-class attack submarines. These include a fiber-optic cable for surveillance enabling commanders to view images without needing to stand directly underneath a periscope as well as a computer-generated “fly-by-wire” navigation system.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and 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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.