WASHINGTON -- The Navy's top admiral on Thursday said he is very concerned about an imminent $500 million shortfall in funding for a large-scale program to develop and build new SSBN(X) Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarines.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert testified before a Senate panel that this shipbuilding effort and other investment programs top his concerns when he assesses challenges his sea service is facing operating under two tricky budgeting scenarios. The Navy does not have an actual budget approved for the fiscal year that started on Oct. 1 -- and instead is operating under a government-wide "continuing resolution" keeping its funding at last year's levels -- and also is facing a sharp reduction in planned funding because of the roughly $500 billion decade-long sequestration budget cuts that hit the Pentagon starting earlier this year.
Greenert told the Senate Armed Services Committee about multiple funding quandaries -- including $1 billion in deferred costs such as contracts that the Navy must pay now as well as unfunded ship-maintenance availabilities and reduced sustainment of air wings.
"But the one that will affect us the most now will be investment," Greenert told committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.). "What concerns me the most is our SSBN(X). Now, that is our top nuclear-strategic deterrent follow-on. And fact of the matter is, [because the Defense Department is operating] under a continuing resolution, and because we want to grow that program in [fiscal] '14, we're $500 million off in '14."
The SSBN(X) is the Navy's replacement for its current SSBNs that have Trident D-5 nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. The service hopes to retire the 14 older vessels starting in 2027, and bring the first of 12 replacements online soon after to keep a desired number of deterrent nuclear warheads on patrol.
The service requested $1.08 billion in research and development funding in fiscal 2014 to ramp up development work on the SSBN(X). A $500 million reduction would prevent a significant uptick in development work.
The big-ticket submarine program has been a concern of both lawmakers and Pentagon officials, as it is set to consume a large portion of the Navy's shipbuilding budget in the coming years. The service in its fiscal 2013 budget delayed the procurement of the first two new submarines, from fiscal 2019 to fiscal 2021.
This past May the Navy estimated it will cost $12 billion, in 2013 dollars, to buy the first SSBN(X) in 2012. It pegged the cost of the additional 11 submarines to be roughly $5.4 billion, in fiscal 2010 dollars. Naval officials are working to reduce that $5.4 billion down to $4.9 billion, Congressional Research Service naval specialist Ronald O'Rourke notes in an Oct. 22 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," O'Rourke writes.
This article was published in Global Security Newswire, which is produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group working to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.