Congress plans to add money into a special fund established this year for the purpose of paying for the Navy's next-generation, nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines, the Ohio Replacement Program.
The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act established the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund as an account created specifically to fund the program; however, it did not receive funding in the initial budget request.
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee, told Military.com that his Congressional subcommittee will add money to the fund as part of its current mark-up of the 2016 defense bill.
"We're going to put some dollars in that this year. As you know we've wanted to get that fund established," Forbes said. "I think this year you will see us actually putting dollars in there and increasing the opportunity for the Department to put additional dollars in there down the road."
The exact amount of the mark-up has yet to be revealed. Congressional and Navy leaders wanted to create the fund to separate its spending line from the Navy's formal shipbuilding budget in order to avoid depleting needed shipbuilding accounts.
If the funding for the Ohio Replacement program would have come from the Navy's annual shipbuilding budget – it would have devastated the Navy's overall long-term plans for the fleet, officials have said.
Rear Adm. Joseph Tofalo, Director of Undersea Warfare, said there is historical precedent for the U.S. coming up with innovative funding strategies for undersea nuclear deterrence. He cited the original Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines first built in the 1980s and the first nuclear armed submarines first built in the early 1960s, called "41 for Freedom."
"The Navy is going to need top line relief in order to accomplish the ship building program. When '41 for freedom,' and then the Ohio-Class, were built, the Navy received about $5 to $7 billion per year in additional funding for ship building. When you compare those years to all other post-Korean war years, you see that top line relief is historically consistent with what has happened over time. The issue is the additional resources and that is the conversation that is going on," Tofalo said.
Slated to serve through 2085, the Ohio Replacement program, the nuclear submarine is scheduled to begin construction by 2021. Requirements work, technical specifications and early prototyping have already been underway at General Dynamics Electric Boat.
Designed to be 560-feet–long and house 16 Trident II D5 missiles fired from 44-foot-long missile tubes, Ohio Replacement submarines will be engineered as a stealthy, high-tech nuclear deterrent.
Production for the lead ship in a planned fleet of 12 Ohio Replacement submarines is expected to cost $12.4 billion — $4.8 billion in non-recurring engineering or development costs and $7.6 billion in ship construction, the plan states.
The Navy hopes to build Ohio Replacement submarine numbers two through 12 for $4.9 billion each.
Detailed design for the first Ohio Replacement Program is slated for 2017. The new submarines are being engineered to quietly patrol the undersea domain and function as a crucial strategic deterrent, assuring a second strike or retaliatory nuclear capability in the event of nuclear attack.
Citing the Ohio Replacement Program's electric drive technology as a vital part of its ability to stay quieter and on patrol through the 2080s, Tofalo said discussions to fund the program were going well.
"When the new strategy comes into effect we are going to have 70-percent of our nation's account able nuclear warheads with the submarine force. This is a ship that is going to be on patrol through the 2080s – it is a tremendous return for the American taxpayer when you talk about preventing major power war," Tofalo added.
The Navy is building 12 Ohio Replacement submarines to replace 14 existing Ohio-class nuclear-armed boats because the new submarines are being built with an improved nuclear core reactor that will better sustain the submarines, officials have said.
As a result, the Ohio Replacement submarines will be able to serve a greater number of deployments than the ships they are replacing and not need a mid-life refueling in order to complete 42 years of service.
Electric Boat and the Navy are already progressing on early prototype work connecting missile tubes to portions of the hull, officials said. Called integrated tube and hull forging, the effort is designed to weld parts of the boat together and assess the ability to manufacture key parts of the submarine before final integration.
In 2012, General Dynamics Electric Boat was awarded a five-year research and development deal for the Ohio Replacement submarines with a value up to $1.85 billion. The contract contains specific incentives for lowering cost and increasing manufacturing efficiency, Navy and Electric Boat officials said.
The successful creation of this fund could raise questions among Army and Air Force leaders seeking for ways to fund some of their top dollar, high-priority programs. For example, the Air Force might seek top line relief for its new bomber program and the Army might wish for funds to pay for its next-generation helicopter program – Future Vertical Lift.
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