VCNO Moran: Columbia SSBN On Schedule, But Margin is Tight
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
WASHINGTON — The vice chief of naval operations (VCNO) said the development and procurement of the Navy’s next-generation ballistic-missile submarine (SSBN) is tracking on schedule but the margin leaves little room for any disruption that could delay it.
The Columbia-class SSBN “is on time, on schedule, but I’m not satisfied with how much margin we have — the risks to delivering on time — but I’m very comfortable to where we are on the schedule and the costing today,” Adm. Bill Moran said in March 8 testimony on strategic deterrent forces before the House Armed Services Committee.
The Columbia-class SSBN is planned to succeed the Ohio-class SSBN, whose 14 hulls each will serve for 42 years, 12 years beyond their original service life. Moran stressed the need to maintain the Ohio class while the Columbia class is being built in order to ensure a robust deterrent force and a smooth transition.
The SSBN force, armed with Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles, is one of the three legs of the U.S. strategic deterrent, the other two being Air Force land-based strategic bombers and ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles. All three legs of the deterrent force are in the process of being modernized.
“We are currently depending on just-in-time modernization,” Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the hearing, noting that strategic deterrent forces comprise 6 percent of the defense budget. “We have been squeezing about all of the life out of the current systems we possess.”
When asked which leg of the triad could be given up if the number were reduced, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander, U.S. Strategic Command, supported the triad concept and said, “I can’t give up any element of the triad. I can’t decide which one is the most important.”
Selva agreed, declaring all three legs as “the foundation to deterrence” and stressed the importance of the Columbia-class SSBN being fielded on schedule.
“There is no slack in [the schedule],” he said.
During the 2030s transition from the Ohio SSBN to the Columbia SSGN, the SSBN force will drop to 10 boats until reaching the planned level of 12 boats in 2041.
“We have worked out the requirements with STRATCOM [U.S. Strategic Command] for the 2030s,” Moran said. “We believe we have enough [SSBNs] to satisfy the requirement.”