GAO: Navy's submarine programs face cost overruns and delays as industry builds two subs at once

By Audrey Decker / June 9, 2022

As shipbuilders juggle the construction of two submarine programs at once, the Columbia- and Virginia-class programs are facing delays and growing costs, according to an annual Government Accountability Office review of the Defense Department's major weapon systems.

The Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program, the Navy's top acquisition priority, saw a $3.4 billion increase since GAO's assessment last year. The Columbia program will replace the existing 14 Ohio-class submarines which will begin retiring in 2027.

"This increase reflects the August 2020 independent cost estimate for the whole class, expenditures on the supplier base, missile tubes that required costly rework, poor contractor performance during design, and updated construction costs, among other things," GAO said in its recent report.

In response to GAO's findings, the Columbia program office said increased costs for the program's shipyard performance and materials are included in the service's fiscal year 2022 budget.

General Dynamics Electric Boat and HII are working on the two submarine programs jointly. The shipbuilders have mitigated program delays by prioritizing the construction of Columbia over the Virginia class, which contributed to delays on the latter program, according to GAO.

"Program officials reported that the shipbuilders added more workers to the Columbia class construction efforts than the Virginia class, contributing to delays on the Virginia class submarines," GAO said.

The first three Virginia-class Block V submarines are expected to be delivered late and additional cost increases are likely, according to GAO's report.

"The Navy’s current cost and schedule projections may be optimistic because they assume a significant amount of improvement in construction efficiency that has yet to be achieved, and the Columbia class’s growing staffing needs continue to add risk for the Virginia class," GAO said.

The service recently conducted a keel laying for the first Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, District of Columbia (SSBN-826), on June 4 in Quonset Point, RI.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, speaking at the keel laying, said Columbia will be the cornerstone of strategic deterrence and the "ultimate guarantor of our national security."

“Potential adversaries know the silent service is on patrol at this very moment, but they don’t know where and that protects us all,” said Del Toro. “The venerable Ohio-class that has guarded us for decades is nearing the end of its service life. For the safety of our sailors, and the security of our world, we must modernize our fleet and our nuclear command, control and communications systems.”

Each Columbia-class submarine will carry 16 missiles. In total, the fleet represents approximately 70% of the U.S. nuclear triad, according to the Navy.