WASHINGTON: Pentagon procurement chief Frank Kendall just approved the Navy’s top-priority program, the Columbia-class nuclear missile submarine, to start detailed design work and engineering. Known in Pentagonese as a Milestone B decision, undersecretary Kendall’s okay lets the Navy spend the $773 million Congress voted for the program in last month’s Continuing Resolution. [CORRECTED:] The projected procurement cost for is $96 billion for 12 submarines; the cost of the whole program, including R&D, is over $125 billion.
“If we had had a Milestone B announcement today but no money… you would have really sort of an empty event,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, the ranking Democrat on the House seapower subcommittee. “Without that $773 million, we’d still be twiddling our thumbs waiting until March,” when a final 2017 spending bill is expected. But now, with the Milestone B decision and 2017 funding in place, Courtney said, “that money is going to move fast… paying EB [Courtney’s homestate shipyard, Electric Boat] and some of the other vendors.”
So, like a nuclear missile that can’t launch unless two officers both turn their keys, the Columbia needed both Congress and the Pentagon to act. Now they both have, and it’s up to the Navy and the shipyards: New England’s Electric Boat and Virginia’s Newport News. But keeping a program this costly and critical on schedule and on budget will be a high-stakes high-wire act.
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