There is vigorous debate concerning the affordability of replacing the Ohio-class (Trident) ballistic-missile submarines (SSBNs), which are set to begin retiring in 15 years. Originally projected to cost $7.7 billion per unit, concern is growing that the “SSBN(X)” future follow-on submarine would crowd out funding necessary to modernize the rest of the Fleet.1 Early in 2011, James McCarthy, the Deputy Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Integration of Capabilities and Resources, said of the Ohio replacement program: “It would have been almost impossible to figure out how a third of our shipbuilding budget could go to a single ship-a-year program for a decade and . . . have the rest of the shipbuilding industry survive while we built the SSBN(X).”2 The debate has been rendered more acute by the realization that America’s ballooning national debt means significant cuts in defense spending are inevitable, since the cost of U.S. security represents about half of discretionary spending.
The Incredible Shrinking SSBN(X)
The Navy must redesign a capable follow-on ballistic-missile submarine that it can afford.
Commander Michael J. Dobbs, USN (Ret.)