Sept. 22 (UPI) -- General Dynamics Electric Boat has been awarded a $5.1 billion contract for development work on the Columbia-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine.
The contract, announced Thursday by the Department of Defense, provides for Integrated Product and Process Development design completion, technology and reactor development, and United Kingdom Strategic Weapon Support System kit manufacturing. Portions of the contract fall under foreign military sales to the United Kingdom.
The Columbia-class is expected to replace the current fleet of Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines. It will field 16 Trident II D5 nuclear ballistic missiles along with torpedos for self-defense. Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles form a key part of the "nuclear triad" of U.S. land, air, and sea-based nuclear weapons.
Ballistic missile submarines are designed for long-endurance nuclear deterrence patrols operating under near complete silence. They form a difficult to detect and destroy fail-safe against the possibility of an enemy first strike destroying land and air-based nuclear delivery systems.
The first of the 12 planned to be built, the Columbia, is expected to be completed by 2031 at a cost of $10.4 billion counting research and engineering costs. Follow-on vessels are expected to cost over $5 billion a piece.
The U.K. Strategic Weapons Support System is part of the Trident II ballistic missile support program. The Trident II is the submarine launched ballistic missile used by both the United States and Britain, and will be mounted on both the Columbia and Britain's Dreadnought-class submarines.