Admiral: Navy Must Shrink Submarine Development Costs

Admiral: Navy Must Shrink Submarine Development Costs

The Navy is trying to lower costs for its nuclear-armed Ohio Replacement Submarine program by leveraging technologies from the Virginia-class submarine program, senior service officials said.

The Navy has made adjustments and pursued strategies aimed at lowering costs and improving technologies for its new fleet of nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines, Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge, director of undersea warfare, told Military​.com in an interview.

The ongoing program is an effort to replace the current fleet of 14 Ohio-class, nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines, or SSBNs, with 12 new high-tech ships, he said. The Navy’s Ohio Replacement program is being worked on by Electric Boat, a division of General Dynamics, under a five year $1.85 billion developmental deal.

“The biggest cost savings achieved has been as a result of fine tuning, leaning, optimizing the military requirements to the minimum essential to deliver the capability at the most reasonable cost. We’re trying to get it under $5 billion dollars per copy,” Breckenridge said.

Navy officials hope to sustain a per-boat price of $4.9 billion for the Ohio Replacement Program after paying non-recurring engineering costs associated with construction of the first boat.

The Navy estimated in May the average procurement cost of boats two through 12 in the Ohio replacement program would be about $5.4 billion, and is working to reduce that figure to a target of $4.9 billion, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

“Even with this cost-reduction effort, observers are concerned about the impact the Ohio replacement program will have on the Navy’s ability to procure other types of ships at desired rates in the 2020s and early 2030s,” the report states.

During recent Congressional testimony, senior Navy leaders told lawmakers that according to budget projections and the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan, the service will need an additional $4 billion per year above the established budget by 2021 in order to succeed in funding construction of the Ohio Replacement program.

Construction of the first Ohio Replacement program submarine is slated for 2021. However, advance procurement begins in 2019 and planning, research and development is already underway. The Navy’s 2014 budget request asks for just over $1 billion for the Ohio Replacement program, now in its technology development phase.

Senior Navy officials explain that many measures continue to be taken to ensure successful development of the submarines while lowering costs.

Instead of being engineered with 24 missile tubes, which is the case with the current Ohio subs, the Ohio Replacement boats will lower costs by only having 16 missile tubes, Breckenridge said.

In addition, the Ohio Replacement submarines are being engineered with a new nuclear-reactor core sufficient to power the ships for 42 years. Unlike the current Ohio-class SSBNs which require a several-year long mid-life nuclear re-fueling process, the new Ohio Replacement boats will be able to continue straight through with their missions without needing this re-fueling pause, Breckenridge explained.

“The main story about Ohio Replacement is with 12 submarines we will be able to do what we can do today. Now we can do a fuel for life. That technology results in dramatic cost savings for the program,” Breckenridge explained. “To keep a two ocean strategy and hold at risk the targets that matter around the globe, there is a minimum number of submarines you need – 12.”

The Ohio Replacement program is also borrowing technology already in production on the Virginia-class attack submarine procurement program. For example, the Virginia class program switched from a sphere-shaped sonar to a conformal plane array, a lower cost technique for getting comparable sonar technology, Breckenridge explained.

“We will leverage that for the Ohio Replacement,” he said.

Also, the Virginia-class submarines removed the need for a penetrating mast/periscope by setting up a fiber-optic link between sail-mounted, high definition cameras and a control room inside the submarine. This allows sailors inside the control room to view live camera feeds on large high-definition TV screens, Breckenridge said.

The Ohio Replacement program will leverage this technology as well, and also utilize the Virginia-class submarines’ “fly-by-wire” ship control system. Instead of having four sailors operate mechanical, hydraulic controls, the “fly-by-wire” system uses a joystick and touch-panel digital controls.

An escalating global nuclear threat and near-peer countries’ ongoing efforts to develop nuclear-armed submarines — amount to a global circumstance requiring the U.S. Navy to improve its sea-based nuclear deterrent, Breckenridge explained.

“What’s happening in the rest of the world right now is not the American ideal of fewer nuclear weapons. Although we are in treaties with Russia and continue to reduce our arsenals, nuclear weapons are proliferating,” Breckenridge said.

Citing North Korea and Iran as countries trying to acquire nuclear weapons, Breckenridge said the Navy remains committed to its mission of sea-based deterrence.

“We know sea-based strategic deterrence very well. Next year we’ll break the 4,000 patrol barrier,” Breckenridge said. “Sea-based strategic deterrent stability has prevented major war since the advent of nuclear weapons. Since the 60s, we’ve had this consecutive safeguard force that is out there providing the ultimate security to the nation.”

Meanwhile, the Russian and Chinese militaries are currently building new class of SSBNs or nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines, Breckenridge said.

One analyst said sea-based nuclear weapons form an indispensable portion of the U.S. Nuclear Triad.

“Submarines are nearly perfect second strike weapon and they always have been. The main legitimate justification is that they offer an ability to credibly retaliate under any circumstances. They are more accurate than land-based ICBMs and vastly superior to bombers,” said Chris Preble, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

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How do you make submarines less expensive? Hmm, maybe ditch the damn blood sucking defense contractors when it comes to the design and development of these vehicles? If you used to be able to design them for less without the defense contractors and now it costs more, it doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch in logic to assume costs will go down if the Navy goes back to designing subs (and ships) themselves once again. Of course, my thinking isn’t influenced by a big contractor kick back looming in my future.

But we’re going to put in all sorts of cool stuff! We will have a DAS system that allows the skipper to see every contact on passive/active sonar sensor fusion around him in his magic goggles! We will redesign the new SSBNX to have a detachable “payload module” to allow swapping a rack of VLS tubes for BM tubes at any port! We will have plug and play modules designed to auto-target weapons to Russia or China that can be changed in at any port!

“The goggles, they do nothing!”

Watch it mister Dfens, you are sounding like a communist! Can’t have that in ‘exceptional la-la-land’! I go you one further, design AND manufacture by the Navy. Cut out the middle men, and their ‘shareholders’. The American taxpayer will be the shareholder. Much nicer to see that rather than a few 0.001% get richer of the ‘expensive engineering’ of these subs.

This is just a thought-but why do we put our seniors out of the game. (hose that have served and know what it’s like to go eye to eye, fist to fist with those chosen to be our foe) those that have life experience (retired veteran) and the new commisioned officer (latest and greatest engineering technique-but has no idea what it’s like to actually defend our country) together with book savy. There are programs that support new businesses (offered by universities and government from retirees) with those that have been in business to assist in set up and managing? after 20–30-40 years in the service there is an additional (possible) 30–20-10 years at a second working environment. Just a thought but there are those that do not work for the almighty dollar but for the love of their country and fellow man.(who better than the retired service memeber that has the experience and savy that it took them a lifetime to learn.)
as a culture we put our middle and elderly on the second burner-what a awful waste of a GREAT resource. Sometimes just a little been there done that would save us 2 billion a year in mistakes

have they tested their new camera’s against the $20 green lazer pointers?

Think we should make the industry foot the bill on R&D more like we used too. I think this new sub is more than a decade away the Navy is dreaming if it thinks it can get a new class of sub adopted in five years.

The Navy has always used contractors to design and build their warships. Why don’t you go and Google USS Constitution

Defense contractors should assume more of the R&D costs, just like truly private industry, which risks 100% of those costs BEFORE they try to sell a product. But if government is going to pay for its “specialty” military products, the way to hold contractor feet to the fire is to pay them NO PROFIT, until AFTER the operational tests, and only then on a proportionate basis for things that passed testing.

Lots of the long term development costs are from having a lot of engineers, corporate and government bureaucrats, and non-deployed military program managers stand around and dream great ideas for an extended period (like when do you think you can get the procurement money?). What’s needed is a non-holds-barred, compressed development efforts that weeds out useless ideas and technologies and produces a basic product. Go manufacture that, and after five-years, make your improvements. Rework in development and manufacturing probably accounts for between 20 and 40% of the total cost. Compress the schedule to save money.

There was a time, before the 80’s, when America actually had fact based policies. They said here are our requirements, and this is the exact profit margin you’ll get. Over it? No more contracts/eat the margins. Because before, with a commercial industrial base, the government could dole out contracts to competitors. Now who else can build a sub besides GDEB? Who can build a carrier besides HII? Who can build tankers besides Boeing? Who can build rifles besides Colt? The saddest part is, all of them shoddy and inferior, and VASTLY over budget and under spec. Got to love cowboy capitalism: breeds complaceny leading to incompetence!

Why is “Cowboy” a swear word. I see nothing wrong with Cowboys. They are hard working, dedicated to their job, they don’t bother anyone and they want to be let alone. So what’s not to like about cowboys?

Saying Cowboy this and Cowboy that doesn’t make any sense. You might as well be saying plumber this and plumber that, or perhaps computer geek this and computer geek that. Maybe you Euro’s don’t really know what a Cowboy is since you all stuffed into your tiny little countries over there

Cowboys are respectable people, they are ranchers. The term ‘cowboy’ capitalism stems from a wrong image foreigners have of those ‘old west gunfighters’. So those kind of dog eat dog capitalists is what is wrong. A rancher/farmer is nothing but commendable.

No, I’m no communist. I’m just an American that remembers history as it happened, not the revisionist history (remember when that used to be the Soviet Union’s favorite ploy) our defense contractors and their buddies who control the US media like to spread around. The founding fathers of this nation knew some things were inherently government functions and they allocated them that way in the US Constitution. Today we wipe out asses with the Constitution and spend our nation into debt so we can give welfare to the richest of the rich.

I say f’ em. We don’t need the defense contractors. All those blood suckers do is get in the way. Go back to what worked when we had the most advanced Navy in the world. Go back to the Navy designing their own ships. If they want to hire some contract labor to do welding and other hourly labor, great. I’m tired of these f’ing contractors robbing us blind and acting like we need them. We need them like we need another hole in the head.

It’s not like they’re being put out to pasture. Quite the opposite, it’s quite common for vets to retire and pickup positions as civil servants or defense contractors. Take a look at where Admirals McCoy and Roughead ended up.

The method employed on this contract (incentivized reductions) has proved wildly successful in the Virginia class program to lower costs significantly. It’s considered one of the few shining acquisition stories in recent US Navy history. The R&D of a sub is a fraction of the cost when compared to production and life cycle costs. The real savings are in those two areas. I wish other programs would have employed this method.

mbiekert: Excellent Concept.… They would be an invaluable instructor staff @ any Military Based Education Institution… however… my experiences as an “Adjunct Prof” both undergrad & grad where met with less than warm open arms. Academia is not exactly military friendly.…. in fact my Ph.D. senior Dissertation advisor told me to “tone-down” my military education & experience as not to appear “Too Warlike”.…. go figure

Alex.….I could even ADD to those savings…end the present “way” submarines are constructed.… with modules being towed.…. well they will not print what I have to say.…..

Actually, there has always been defense contractors-always. The Navy has never owned shipyards-ever. Back to the days of Paul Revere doing the copper cladding on the bottom of ships. We just let them design and develop them

Procurement costs for submarines have steadily DECLINED over the years due to increased competition. In fact the ARCI model is used as an example of procurement. In current dollars (so you can compare apples to apples), it costs 1/3 for an ARCI sonar system than an old legacy system AND that includes 3 upgrades to capability for ARCI and none for a legacy system. If you add in a legacy upgrade it drops to 1/6 the cost.

That’s crap. The Navy owns shipyards now. They often hired contractors to provide hourly labor in those shipyards, but, as you say, the new thing is letting contractors design and develop the ships. That’s a whole different class of labor. I’m thinking about a new ship design now. Now I’m thinking of what I’m going to have for dinner this evening. Could you tell the difference? Not quite the same as, now I’m welding two pieces of steel together, now I’m f’ing off, is it? And if I make a profit on every hour I can drag out designing a ship, it’s hard to stop me from creating all kinds of elaborate systems that make me look like my people are busy when really they’re just f’ing off. And if I make more money by jacking the costs of the ship I’m designing through the roof, it’s hard to catch me at that too because stupid looks just like crooked, and often by hiring and promoting stupid people I can get the same desired result. So when I say, “ditch the damn blood sucking defense contractors when it comes to the design and development of these vehicles,” I mean, “ditch the damn blood sucking defense contractors when it comes to the DESIGN and DEVELOPMENT of these vehicles.”

You mean give the contractors part of the overcharges (I mean “savings”) as an incentive for over-promising and under-delivering?

Did anybody think about getting back to basics? There’s many good reasons to bring back modern Diesel Powered boats… let’s say on a 10–1 ratio to Nukes. Some of the nuke boats are so complex, and so packed with high-tech stuff that it’s frightening. Imagine being in a tight situation and waiting for “Windows” to try and reboot to take any action. (Actually happened once)

Diesel boats are a formidable machine, well designed, and historically reliable. They do a good job, and cost a whole lot less… and you don’t have to go to nuke school…

One thing you’re forgetting is the places where our submarines would be fighting are on the other side of the globe. Conventionally powered submarines do not have the range or endurance to venture that far. How many times have you heard of any foreign diesel boats venturing close to our shores? Our nuclear powered attack submarines are game changers. They are fast, quiet, heavily armed and can stay submerged for long periods of time. Even our oldest subs, the Los Angeles class are superior to anything any other country has.


Defense contracting has always been known for blood sucking and contracting offices have their houses painted several times in the process. I believe if you have a dishonest contracting officer you will also find a dishonest contractor, they follow each other. The federal over site is managed by congress and we all know who we are dealing with there. The voter must take back control of the whole mess.

Okay, if I have my math right — there will be a 43% reduction in the number of “deterrent” missiles aboard this leg of the triad. Of course if a sub is laid up there would be an increase in the percentage of missiles offline as well. Does this mean there will be an increase in land based missiles or air-based strategic delivery systems? Seems like some treaty would forbid that. So, unless we have unused headroom in those legs numbers, there would have to be an increase in warheads on the subs missiles. Probably also verboten, but hopefully not.

Or, are we once again unilaterally disarming, and our most “survivable” strike asset at that?

I’m not talking about the illegal stuff here. There always was illegal stuff going on. There always will be illegal stuff going on. It’s a small percentage of the overall bill so it’s not ok, but it’s not a crisis. What I’m fed up with is the LEGAL procurement system. The system that pays a contractor more to f up, drag out design, and jack up weapon costs than it does if the contractor comes in on-time and on-budget. It’s a system that guarantees the contractor $1.10 for every $1.00 they spend with no upper limit on how much is spent. The contractor literally spends themselves rich with your money. It’s not right. It’s not smart. It’s destroying our military, sending good kids to their deaths in crappy old equipment that should have been replaced decades ago, and it’s robbing us taxpayers and our children blind.

Get rid of the Davis-Bacon Act which reqires union wages for all contractors.

“To keep a two ocean strategy and hold at risk the targets that matter around the globe, there is a minimum number of submarines you need – 12.”

… and here I thought the number would be closer to how many mines you needed for a mine field… just issue a press release. We should tell everyone else that we’ve got 24 boomers, that we built in secret and we could save an additionaly 4.9 billion per ship!

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