ST. MARYS, Ga. — The Navy needs to replace the aging Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, and it needs to do it on schedule, the chief of naval operations said Tuesday during a visit to the base.
"We have to build an Ohio replacement," Adm. Jonathan Greenert told an audience that included elected officials from Georgia and Florida. "It will happen, and it will be done right. The first ship will be on patrol in 2031."
The British Navy is also planning to build a new fleet of ballistic missile submarines, and will share the same nuclear missiles as those on the next generation of submarines that will be built in the United States.
One looming concern is how federal budget constraints will affect the four major ship building companies used by the Navy.
"They have the right kind of capabilities. We have to have the industrial base to build the future Navy. It does limit our options," he said of cuts.
He said the world is dependent on its oceans, where 90 percent of global trade travels and 80 percent of the world's population lives within 100 miles of an ocean.
"These places need to be stable or it affects the economy," he said. "We need to be where it matters, when it matters. If you're late, it's like you're not there."
With the Navy also assisting globally with recoveries from natural disasters, such as helping typhoon victims in the Philippines, an ongoing search for a missing Malaysian passenger jet and facing flash points in North Korea and Ukraine, it has only so many ships and personnel available.
"Our ability to respond is drastically reduced," Greenert said. "We distribute the ships the best way we know how. It's being where it matters anywhere in the world."
Among the elected officials in the audience were U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-1.
Chambliss praised the sailors at Kings Bay, saying they are "second to none."
"Kings Bay is an important part of national security in the United States," he said. "We are reminded of what a dangerous world we live in. We can never, ever afford to be second best."
Kingston said he wants to ensure the military has everything it needs to keep the nation and world safe. He said he never wants the Navy to be in a fair fight, and the only way to do that is to ensure it has the best equipment and training possible to have the advantage.
U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville, praised strong support for the Navy in south Georgia and north Florida.
"This demonstrates the great bond between the Navy and the community," he said. "It really is a triangle of excellence. It helps folks realize how important the military is."
Greenert's visit Tuesday precedes a trip to the base Friday by Navy Secretary Ray Maybus.