The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Rhode Island returning to port from sea trials. The new Columbia-class subs are expected to replace the Ohio-class starting in 2031. Photo by Lt. Katherine Diener/U.S. Navy
Nov. 7 (UPI) -- General Dynamics has awarded Huntington Ingalls' Newport News Shipbuilding division with a $197 million contract for material and advance construction for the first Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine.
Huntington Ingalls, which announced the contract on Tuesday, is to provide long-lead-time materials and advance construction work for major components for the Columbia as part of an existing contract with additional procurement funding.
Newport News is one of the major subcontractors for the construction of the Columbia-class, and is one of the few facilities in the United States capable of doing major work on nuclear vessels.
"This contract modification is critical in engaging the submarine industrial base as we continue our efforts to support starting full construction in Fiscal Year 2021," Jason Ward, Newport News vice president for Columbia-class construction, said in a statement.
Construction of the Columbia-class is expected to begin in fiscal 2021, with the first submarine expected for delivery to the Navy in 2028. The Navy plans to purchase 12 of the new vessels to gradually replace the currently deployed Ohio-class, which is aging and nearing the end of its service life.
Columbia-class submarines will field 16 Trident II D5 nuclear ballistic missiles, along with torpedoes for self-defense. Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles are one of the legs of the "nuclear triad" of U.S. land, air and sea-based nuclear weapons.
Ballistic missile submarines perform extended nuclear deterrence patrols operating under near complete silence in deep water, making them very difficult to detect by conventional sonar and other sensor systems.
Due to their elusiveness until right before launching ballistic missiles, submarines like the Ohio-class and Columbia-class are a hedge against the possibility of a enemy first strike against air-delivered and land-based nuclear forces.
The first in the new class, the Columbia, is expected to be fully operational by 2031 at a cost of $10.4 billion counting research and engineering costs. The rest of the vessels are expected to cost over $5 billion per submarine and will be the primary U.S. ballistic missile submarine until near the end of the century.