Just How Many New Columbia-Class Missile Submarines is the Navy Building?

    Dave Majumdar

    Security,

    12 could be just the start–maybe. 

    The United States Navy may build more than 12 Columbia-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). While the Pentagon had previously stated that it needed 12 Columbia-class submarines, the new Nuclear Posture Review sets that number as a floor.

    “The Columbia-class program will deliver a minimum of 12 SSBNs to replace the current Ohio fleet,” a predecisional version of the Nuclear Posture Review obtained by The National Interest reads.

    “If Navy shipbuilding funding was not already insufficient to build 355 ship Navy, then building even two more SSBNs would provide greater margin to ensure the Navy can always maintain the minimum submarines required for uninterrupted alert coverage would be a worthwhile endeavor,” retired U.S. Navy submariner Thomas Callender, currently a senior research fellow for defense programs at the Heritage Foundation, told The National Interest.

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    As Callender explained, the Navy needs a bare minimum of 12 Columbia-class boats to maintain 10 available submarines. “Six SSBNs in the Pacific and four in the Atlantic is the bare minimum required to provide uninterrupted alert coverage for the combatant commander.  Geography is the reason for six in Pacific,” Callender said. “Twelve gives you 10 later in Columbia’s life when I have SSBNs undergoing depot maintenance. We needed 14 Ohios because they had mid-life refueling which took them out of operations for longer.”

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