YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — A provision added to the House 2013 defense bill could extend the service life of the Navy’s nuclear ballistic missile submarines, according to documents released by a House subcommittee Wednesday.
The provision, added by the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee, would prevent the Navy from decommissioning more than two of its 14 nuclear weapon-carrying Ohio-class submarines, despite delays in construction plans for the next generation of nuclear submarines.
“The Secretary of the Navy may not retire or decommission a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine if such retirement of decommissioning would result in the active or commissioned fleet consisting of less than 12 submarines,” the bill states.
The four Ohio-class submarines converted to carry conventional missiles are not included in the provision, according to the bill.
Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines were originally planned for a 30-year service life, but they will continue well past that, according to the Naval Sea Systems Command website. The oldest active ballistic Ohio-class submarine, USS Henry M. Jackson, was commissioned in 1984, followed by USS Alabama a year later. USS Alaska and USS Nevada were commissioned in 1986.
Construction on the first Ohio-class replacement is scheduled to begin in 2021, and it might not enter active service until 2029 or later. The Navy originally sought to begin construction on the new platform in 2019, but construction was delayed by budget trade-offs in the 2012 defense bill.
Despite the delays, Pentagon documents still emphasize the need for retaining nuclear missile capability on submarines.
“These ships are the most survivable leg of the Nation’s strategic arsenal and provide the Nation’s only day-to-day assured nuclear response capability,” according to the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan.