It looks like there will be a shift on the next Force Structure Assessment, which comes out in February. Fewer submarines, more of as of yet unidentified platforms.
There will be no change to Columbia-class submarine procurement, schedule to occur during the 2020’s and 2030’s. Those 12 ballistic missile submarines are pretty much non-negotiable.
But that means the cuts will come from the Virginia-class of nuclear attack submarines.
Essentially, the result will be a net drop in our total attack submarine force over the next 10 years.
Currently we have 51 nuclear attack submarines, of which 30 are Los Angeles-class, 3 are Seawolf-class and 18 are Virginia-class.
The Los Angeles-class will continue to decommission as they reach the end of their nuclear reactor service life. If the current plan is adopted, we will lose more Los Angeles-class subs than we gain in Virginia-class subs.
I would frankly like to at least see us break even on submarines.
I will be very interested as to what platforms will be prioritized, but that must wait for February.
They could probably stretch the service of some boats maybe as long as two years, but the reactor has a hard limit. Most of the boats have been decommissioned around 33 years, although some never received a midlife refueling and where decommissioned after 15 to 17 years. But I think 35 years is probably the hard limit on the lifespan of a Los Angeles-class submarine.
So they could stretch them out a bit, but not by much.
Currently, we have 18 Ohio-class submarines, 4 Guided Missile SSGNs and 14 Ballistic Missile SSBN. The 4 SSGNs were converted from SSBNs to keep us within Treaty limits on sea based ballistic missiles.
All 18 of those will begin decommissioning , to be replaced by 12 Columbia-class SSBNs, which can do the job of the current 14 Ohio-class SSBNs. The Guided Missile capability provided by the 4 Ohio-class SSGNs will be picked up by the Virginia-class.
Our sea-borne ballistic missile capability will not be effected. Our guided missile capability will be reduced considerably once the 4 SSGNs decommission, particularly with reduced Virginia-class acquisitions.
Strategically the importance of the attack boats is one of the very best deterrents we have to conflict with nuclear nations because they are literally hunter killer boats and also with their missile compliments very effective and stealthy platforms for precision attacks on land based targets.
I’d hate to see us weakened in that area.
If we keep downsizing the BW Navy at some point we’re going to eventually pay a very high price.
USS Ohio (SSGN-726) - November 2023
USS Michigan (SSGN-727) - September 2024
USS Florida (SSGN-728) - June 2025
USS Georgia (SSGN-729) - February 2026
More critically is when we begin losing the SSBNs, as the Columbia-class must be ready to slide in to replace them:
USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN-730) - October 2026
USS Alabama (SSBN-731) - May 2027
USS Alaska (SSBN-732) - January 2028
USS Nevada (SSBN-733) - August 2028
USS Tennessee (SSBN-734) - December 2030
USS Pennsylvania (SSBN-735) - September 2031
USS West Virginia (SSBN-736) - October 2032
USS Kentucky (SSBN-737) - July 2033
USS Maryland (SSBN-738) - June 2034
USS Nebraska (SSBN-739) - July 2035
USS Rhode Island (SSBN-740) - July 2036
USS Maine (SSBN-741) - July 2037
USS Wyoming (SSBN-742) - July 2038
USS Louisiana (SSBN-743) - September 2039
Note that those dates are hard maximums, 42 years on each boat, the reactors having been modified and been pushed LONG past their original service life. There will be no extension beyond that. And it is quite possible individual boats may not make it that long, if their reactor craps out before then.
The first boat of the Columbia-class, USS Columbia (SSBN-826) will not be ready to make its first nuclear deterrence patrol until 2031 at the earliest. ANY slip in the timeline and we will really be hurting in that department. As it is, 6 Ohio-class boats will be out of service before the Columbia-class begins to enter service.
Much of the problem is the sheer overwhelming expense of nuclear power. Expensive to build. Expensive to operate. Expensive to dismantle and dispose of. We have boats that have been decommissioned and struck for over 20 years that are STILL awaiting dismantling due to the giant backlog. Maintaining security and keeping them from foundering while awaiting breaking is yet another expense.
We have a very limited number of builders and only one facility that can dismantle these boats. Additionally, those builders are going to be tasked very soon with building the Columbia-class SSBN’s, which will further reduce capacity and funds available for the Virginia-class.
We are currently at 51 attack submarines, including 30 Los Angeles-class, 3 Seawolf-class and 18 Virginia-class. The Navy says we need 66. At the expected rate of acquisition of the Virginia-class and loss of the Los Angeles-class, we will drop into the low 40 range by the end of the 2020’s.
There IS a solution. Lots of people won’t ******* like it. Lots of people will ******* hate it. But it will have to happen if we want anywhere close to 66 submarines.
If we want to have any chance at all to get to 66 submarines, we will have to augment the Virginia-class with a diesel-electric (SSK) line of submarines. They would be modeled closely on the Virginia-class, other than being diesel-electric powered.
Yes, I know all the weaknesses of conventional power submarines, so no need to point any of them out to me. It would make no difference in my final argument anyhow. The fact is that we will HAVE to augment SSNs with SSKs if we want to get to 66.
The author of the above article explains how we could allocate SSKs to some missions and save the SSNs for other missions.
Of course, at the end of life, SSKs can be dropped off in Brownsville, Texas and broken up by a conventional shipyard with negligible if any expense, as typically the breaker gets paid on the sale of the scrap metal. Not sitting around for 20 ******* years waiting for a spot to open up in Bremerton and costing tons of money awaiting disposal and during disposal.
Bottom line, if 66 submarines are to be achieved, then diesel-electric SSKs are pretty much mandatory.
Unfortunately, the military industrial complex will insist on designing an SSK purely domestically and from the keel up. Both the defense contractors and the politicians who feed and are fed by them will insist on the full R&D money and long lead design money so that as much revenue falls to the defense contractors as is humanly possible.
Might actually HAVE to domestically design one anyway. The Dolphin-class does not have the necessary capabilities to stand in for the Virginia-class.
The Chinese Qing-class submarines with air-independent propulsion is currently the standard worldwide as far as non-nuclear attack submarines go. I doubt the PLAN will share any tips with the United States, however.
If we put our minds to it, I think we could get to actual production of non-nuclear attack submarines within five years. If we then produced 22 to 25 units, we could make up the difference by the mid 2030’s, as non-nuclear boats can be produced far quicker than nuclear boats. That would give us 66 total attack submarines by the mid 2030’s time frame.
Having been a destroyer sailor I have come to believe the adage that there are two types of ships, subs and targets. This is especially true in an age of hyper speed misses with extremely long ranges. Cancel the carriers and put the money into boats.