Keel laid for US Navy's next-generation nuclear missile submarine
The construction of America's next-generation strategic nuclear missile submarine has formally begun as the keel was ceremonially laid for the future USS District of Columbia (SSBN 826) at Electric Boat's facility in Quonset Point, Rhode Island.
Though the first steel for the Columbia-class submarines was cut in 2019, the keel laying by the General Dynamics subsidiary, when large sections of the bottom of the vessel are laid down on blocks in the dock as assembly begins, marks a milestone. For submarines, this is purely ceremonial because subs don't have actual keels, so they are technically boats, not ships.
Instead of laying an actual keel, the ceremony involved the welding of the initials of the District of Columbia's sponsor, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), onto a steel plate, which will be permanently installed on the submarine in a place of honor.
Though formal assembly has only now begun, General Dynamics says that construction of the District of Columbia is already 20 percent complete. This is because the submarine's design is modular, with the main sections being built at different Electric Boat and subcontractor facilities. In 2023, the first of the modules will arrive at the new Electric Boat facility at Groton, Connecticut in 2023 for full assembly.
The 21,140-tonne District of Columbia will be the first of the planned 12-vessel Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine fleet. Originally, the first boat's name was to be Columbia, but the attack submarine USS Columbia is still in service and has undergone a life-extension refit, so it will still be in commission when the District of Columbia is finished. To prevent confusion, the US Navy decided to change the name.
The Columbia class will be the largest submarine ever built for the Navy and will replace the 14 Ohio-class Cold War submarines, the first of which is scheduled for retirement in 2027. Each of the new submarines will carry 16 missile tubes each, which is eight less than the Ohio class. These will carry the D-5 Trident II missile with multiple warheads and will account for 70 percent of the deployed US nuclear arsenal.
The Columbia class will have a fully electric pump propulsion system and will be powered by an advanced nuclear reactor that will not require refueling for the entire life of the boat. In addition to the missiles, it will also carry Mk 48 torpedoes and will be equipped with an enlarged version of LAB sonar used by the Virginia-class attack submarines. The hull will also feature an acoustic structure for a minimal sound signature.
The District of Columbia will cost about US$9.15 billion. It's scheduled to be deployed in 2030 and will have a 42-year service life, which will include about 124 ocean patrols carrying a complement of 155 sailors.
"With the Columbia-class program, the Navy has entrusted Electric Boat to deliver the next 60 years of nuclear deterrence for our nation, continuing the company’s legacy of delivering the finest, most technically advanced submarines in the world," said Kevin Graney, president of General Dynamics Electric Boat. "These submarines are critical for our national defense, and will embody the commitment to excellence our shipbuilders bring to their work each and every day."
Source: General Dynamics