Navy OKs Biggest Ever Deal: $22B for 9 Virginia Subs

Navy OKs Biggest Ever Deal: $22B for 9 Virginia Subs

Virginia-class submarine USS John Warner at commissioning, with the new Virginia Payload Module on display.

PENTAGON: The Navy has awarded the largest contract in its history, a $22.2 billion deal with Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls for nine new Virginia-class submarines, which the service says will make them more lethal, and much harder to detect when operating close to hostile shores.

The contract includes an option for a tenth boat, which would bring the contract up to $24.1 billion if enacted. The deal, which calls for construction to begin this year, would see the delivery of the first fast-attack sub in 2025.

The Navy is walking a razor-thin line with building the new Virginia boats at the same time as it’s introducing new Columbia-class submarines, meaning the service will have to produce one Columbia and two Virginias per year, a pace of submarine building the service has not seen in decades.

Navy acquisition chief James Geurts told a small group of reporters gathered in his office here today that “doing both of these at the same time is no small task,” but he’s structured both programs in a way that the shared suppliers are aware of what’s needed well in advance, but “if not, we can back off a little to make sure Columbia is successful.”

Navy leadership has long said the Columbia program — which will carry a huge chunk of the nation’s nuclear warheads when fully operational — is its number one priority, something Geurts underlined several times. 

Hanging over the celebration is the prospect of a year-long Continuing Resolution however, which Congress would enact if it cannot fail reach a budget deal by the end of the year.

Geurts, however, made it clear that the Navy will save the Virginia and Columbia programs even if it means pain for other parts of the fleet. 

“Even if I can preserve this contract in a year-long CR, it will come at the expense of other things like ship maintenance and depot maintenance,” he said. “If you look at the challenges the Navy faces under a year-long CR, to protect one really big thing means I have to sacrifice a large, large number  of smaller things…but you have to start cutting somewhere.” 

Beginning in the early 2020s, the Navy is scheduled to work on both classes at the same time, producing one Columbia and two Virginias per year. That makes getting the Virginia right a core national security issue.

The Columbia-class is the first completely new submarine the United States has produced in decades. Their construction schedule, which begins in 2021, has no room for error since the Columbia will replace the maxed-out Ohio-class nuclear submarines, which are slated to begin retiring in the next decade.

But several members of Congress today said it’s full-speed ahead.

Sen. Jack Reed, Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee — some work will be done in his home state of Rhode Island — hailed the award, saying in a statement: “These next generation submarines provide our forces with a distinct national security advantage. They are an unmatched tool for deterrence,” adding he’ll work to ensure the Navy maintains a two-per-year production rate.

Rep. Joe Courtney, chair of the HASC seapower and projection forces subcommittee who hails from the home of Electric Boat, said in a statement that he’ll continue to push for the tenth boat. “The inclusion of advanced funding for long lead components for all ten boats, typically worth around $450 million per boat, sends a powerful signal that the Navy has heeded that message,” he said.

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