The Navy is considering extending the lives of some Ohio-class submarines for a second time.
The goal is to ensure there are at least 10 ballistic missile submarines in operation for national security reasons while the new Columbia-class boats come online.
The first of the 12 new submarines is expected to arrive at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in 2027 and begin deployment in 2028, said Dave Reilly, national president of the U.S. Navy League.
The Ohio-class submarines home ported at Kings Bay and a base in Bangor, Washington, were originally planned to have a 30-year life span. The Navy has already extended their lifespan to 42 years.
Reilly, a former Navy captain who served aboard three Ohio-class submarines, said he has no concerns about extending the lifespan of some of the vessels.
“They won’t do this until they do all the studies,” he said. “They are very important to national defense.”
The Navy plans to closely inspect the hulls of the 14 Ohio-class submarines in service to determine which ones to extend for several more years.
The contractor, General Dynamics Electric Boat, will have a three-year gap between delivery of the first Columbia-class submarine and the second one, which is why the Navy is considering the concept. There will be a two-year gap between the second and third boats, with plans to build one a year afterward.
Reilly said the longevity of the Ohio-class subs is a testament to great engineering and construction of the vessels.
Extending the life span of some of the older boats will not require another refueling of nuclear fuel, he said. Some of the older subs were “sucking fumes” by the time they were refueled, Reilly said.
“I’m pretty sure they have enough fuel,” he said.
Ballistic missile submarines are considered the most important deterrent to nuclear attack, even though other legs of the deterrent to nuclear attack include ballistic missiles and bombers.
Reilly expressed confidence there will be enough ballistic missile submarines to protect the nation as the new submarines come online.
“We have managed to avoid major wars,” he said. “It’s safer (to extend the lifespans) than not having them.”