Sub delays may affect Kings Bay base
The Brunswick News, Ga.
ST. MARYS, Ga. — Delays in the Navy's plans to begin construction of a new generation of submarines to replace the aging fleet of Ohio-class boats could impact the future of Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.
The Navy plans to build 12 new submarines to replace the ballistic missile fleet of 14 submarines. But if fewer than 12 are built, it raises a serious question.
"Reducing the number of (ballistic submarines) below 12 could also raise a question as to whether the force should continue to be home ported at both Bangor, Wash., and Kings Bay, Ga., or consolidated at a single location," the report said.
Kings Bay is home port for six Ohio-class Trident submarines and Bangor, Wash., is home port for eight of the boats.
Sheila McNeill, former national Navy League president and current chairwoman of Camden Partnership, an organization created to support Kings Bay, said the replacement fleet is a concern she has had for more than a year.
If the decision to build fewer than 12 boats is made and they are all ported at one base, McNeill said it's unlikely Kings Bay will be the home port. The Navy currently has a policy to keep 60 percent of the Trident fleet in the Pacific and 40 percent in the Atlantic.
"There's a lot of angst right now," she said. "People don't want to look at the future. That's why I'm so focused on this issue."
The new generation of submarines is currently in the design phase, and they won't be cheap — more than $90 billion for design and construction.
The Navy estimates the lead ship will cost about $12 billion, including $4.6 billion in design and engineering costs for the entire class. It has estimated the cost for each subsequent boat at $5.4 billion, and is trying to find ways to reduce the cost to $4.9 billion per boat.
"Decisions that Congress makes on the Ohio replacement program could substantially affect U.S. military capabilities and funding requirements and the U.S. shipbuilding industrial base," the Navy report said.
The basic mission of the submarines is to remain hidden at sea with their ballistic nuclear missiles as a deterrent to nuclear attack by demonstrating to other countries that the United States has an assured second-strike capability, meaning a survivable system for carrying out a retaliatory nuclear attack.
"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," the report said.
The new submarines will have 16 launch tubes, instead of 24, the number on the current fleet. Unlike the Ohio-class design, which requires a mid-life nuclear refueling that takes a boat out of service about two years, the new boats will have a nuclear core that will last the 40 years they are in service.
The new boats will also have an electric drive propulsion system that will make them stealthier than Ohio-class submarines, the report said.
Earlier this year, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told the Senate Appropriations Committee the need to start construction of a new fleet of boats "has been amply documented, justified."
"But the one word of caution. We are on track today. It's a large program. It's an expensive program," he said. "And actually two words of caution. One is sequestration (mandated budget cuts) holds the potential to upset this time line in a fairly dramatic way."