Emergency reserve: the US Navy is trying to avoid a shortage of nuclear submarines

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Emergency reserve: the US Navy is trying to avoid a shortage of nuclear submarines
Emergency reserve: the US Navy is trying to avoid a shortage of nuclear submarines
24 November, 15:55ArmyPhoto: Соцсети
The US Navy has developed a special program whose goal in the next decade is to keep at least ten submarines with intercontinental ballistic missiles (SSBNs) ready to go to sea at any moment.

Alexander Sychev

This is supposed to be achieved by two measures - extending the service life of some decommissioned Ohio-class submarines and accelerating the delivery of new Columbia-class submarines.

The situation that has worried American sailors arose in connection with a two-year delay in the construction of the first Columbia-class submarine, which will now enter the fleet no earlier than 2031, if there are no new unforeseen complications. Initially, the construction of the Columbia-class SSBN was planned to begin in 2019, so that by 2029 it could enter the combat structure of the US Navy. But the design work dragged on and is still ongoing.

Meanwhile, the Ohio submarines are nearing the end of their service lives. They will begin to write off just in 2029. As a result, the number of SSBNs in the US Navy may be reduced to ten submarines at best, some of which will be under scheduled repairs.

“Submarines, like cars, are most prone to breakdowns in two periods: when they are new and production defects are revealed”, - Rear Admiral Scott Pappano explained, - “and when they are old. Components start to fail. The 2030s will be a critical period when we will only have new and old ships”.

The US Navy currently operates 14 Ohio-class submarines, each armed with 20 Trident II (D5) ICBMs. In total, strategic missile carriers carry up to 911 nuclear warheads of various capacities.

Of this flotilla, 12 submarines are ready to go on patrol. Of these, about five secretly wander in various areas of the world's oceans, on combat duty. Two submarines are undergoing maintenance.

Columbia-class submarines are to replace Ohio on a one-for-one basis. These submarines will carry a smaller number of intercontinental ballistic missiles, 16 each, but the total number of nuclear warheads will remain about the same.

To bridge the time gap and have some strategic reserve on hand, the US Navy, according to Rear Admiral Doug Perry of the Chief of Naval Operations, shipyards should speed up work and thereby reduce the boat building phase from second to 12 for six months.

The military cannot simply order industry to work faster. American shipbuilders today are experiencing certain difficulties: a shortage of qualified personnel, problems with the supply of materials and their rise in price, which arose due to the violation of supply chains, increased delivery times for parts, especially long manufacturing times. Even the previous schedule of delivering products one piece a year was extremely stressful for them.

To remove these restrictions, the naval headquarters, together with the industry, came up with several measures that they hope to implement with the support of the Department of Defense. They will require not only an increase in funding, but also the coordination of new schemes for the procurement of materials and assemblies.

The second measure, designed to preserve the strike potential of the United States, provides for a three-year extension of the service life of two to five Ohio-class submarines. The problem is that the service life of all submarines of this type has been extended more than once and today is 42 years. The resource is fully selected, but the Navy is ready to take the risk.

To do this, each decommissioned submarine will undergo a thorough assessment. If specimens with a hull and reactor in good condition are found, they will be sent for an 18-month repair, after which they will be transferred to the category of “limited readiness” missile carriers. Submarines with an extended service life will be at the base, and they will go to sea only as a last resort - to complete a combat mission, if such a need suddenly arises.

The number of submarines that will be scheduled for modernization work will depend on the cost of extending the resource (this issue has not yet been resolved with the shipyards) and the workload of repairmen on the implementation of other contracts. US military shipyards are already well-scheduled for years to come, and their owners are taking measures to increase productivity to ensure ships get out on time. The US Navy is not ready to sacrifice the terms of acceptance of ships and boats undergoing scheduled maintenance for the sake of resuscitation of obsolete submarines.

The first potential submarine that could be tried to extend its service life is the USS Alaska. Her retirement date is 2029. A decision on its future fate will be made in fiscal year 2026. Three years are allotted for the purchase of materials and assemblies, as well as for the shipyards to have time to plan their work.

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