The Trump administration could be opening the door to a larger fleet of Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines than the Defense Department has planned, according to a leaked draft of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, which characterizes the current goal of building 12 new subs as a “minimum” fleet objective.
A draft version of the document, marked “for official use only” and “pre-decisional,” dated January 2018 and obtained by The Huffington Post, notes in two separate places the “Columbia program will deliver a minimum of 12 SSBNs to replace the current Ohio[-class] fleet and is designed to provide required deterrence capabilities for decades.”
A “minimum” fleet size could argue that fewer submarines would be unacceptable; it could also introduce a potential hedge to grow the fleet, presumably in response to an increased requirement to execute the strategic deterrence mission.
The Navy last year awarded a potential $5.1 billion contract to General Dynamics Electric Boat to proceed with development of the new-generation ballistic missile submarine as part of a $128 billion modernization program that threatens to squeeze future funding for conventional service weapon system programs without a larger overall budget allowance for the sea service.
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