Posted by: arbeam | August 8, 2013

Navy Planning To Expand Virginia-Class Sub Production Beyond 30-Boat Buy

 

The Navy is formalizing plans to extend the production of the Virginia-class submarine beyond the current 30-boat acquisition plan, programming nearly $600 million in fiscal year 2018 for a 31st boat in 2020.

The Navy revealed the previously unreported development in a May report to Congress on the Virginia-class program, the Pentagon’s second most expensive modernization project, setting the stage for its $92 billion price tag to grow.

The service has not yet fleshed out a new acquisition program baseline — which would establish a new procurement target as well as production schedule and cost goals — but plans to do so once it formalizes a requirement for a planned centerpiece of future submarines, the Virginia Payload Module, according to the report. The new payload design is intended to give the boat a four-pack of large-diameter tubes capable of firing Tomahawk Land Attack missiles as well as planned follow-on weapons.

“The Navy is planning for a possible class extension and has added advance procurement (FY 2018) for an FY-20 ship,” states a footnote in the 2012 Selected Acquisition Report for the submarine program, dated December 31, 2012, and provided to lawmakers in May. “An APB [acquisition program baseline] to extend the class and to include Virginia Payload Module will be developed when requirements are determined for VPM.”

In FY-13, as part of the Pentagon’s plan to accommodate $487 billion in spending cuts over the next decade mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act, the Navy stretched out the Virginia-class production plan, slipping a planned second boat from FY-14 to FY-20. That change, the Navy reported in a December 2011 acquisition report, would have added $226 million in production costs between FY-14 and FY-18 due to inefficiencies.

With encouragement from Congress, however, the Navy reversed those plans in April, submitting an FY-14 budget request that reinstated a second boat in FY-14, which the service plans to procure as part of a 10-ship block buy between FY-14 and FY-18. Pulling that FY-20 boat forward, according to the 2012 acquisition report, reduced total program costs by $1.8 billion.

That cost avoidance, according to the Navy report, helped free up $591.8 million, which the service has programmed in FY-18 to procure long-lead items for one FY-20 boat.

The Virginia Payload Module could provide future attack submarines with additional large-diameter payload tubes, increasing space for the boat to carry as many as 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles (compared to today’s dozen) and adding other payload options, according to the Navy. The service’s FY-14 budget plan includes a five-year, $683 million spending blueprint to cover the design of the new payload module, including $59 million in FY-14. The design is targeted for a fifth block buy, which would be acquired between FY-19 and FY-23, according to service budget documents.

The Navy’s FY-14 budget request states that the service plans to establish VPM “baseline requirements” in the third quarter of fiscal year 2013 and begin design development in FY-15.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in a separate May report to Congress, forwarded the Navy’s updated 30-year shipbuilding plan, which reflected the findings of a 2012 force structure assessment that accounted for the president’s January 2012 defense strategic guidance and mandated budget cuts by paring back the required battle force to 306 ships, including 48 nuclear-powered attack submarines.

The 23-page report assumes the service will continue buying two nuclear-powered attack submarines annually through 2023, after which the annual procurement rate would fluctuate without interruption between one and two boats through 2043. The forecast in the report does not account for the impact of sequestration in FY-14 or beyond, Hagel wrote.

The Navy’s inventory of nuclear-powered attack subs will taper down from 55 to 48 by 2023, according to the report. In 2025, the submarine fleet will fall below the 48-boat requirement to 47, bottoming out at 42 in FY-29 before climbing back to 50 in FY-35.

InsideDefense.com, Aug. 7

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