Twelve Ohio Replacement Program submarines would cost $60 billion over 15 years. (Navy illustration)
WASHINGTON — The Ohio Replacement Program (ORP) has been staring at US Navy planners for years, waiting for a scheme to pay its $60 billion bill. The first ship of a planned 12 submarines is to be funded and ordered in 2021, a schedule necessary to replace existing ballistic-missile submarines as they reach the end of their service lives starting in the late 2020s.
But the issue has been how to pay for the subs, which meet a national strategic requirement but are outside the Navy’s normal, general-purpose ship construction budgets. The Navy would like a supplemental funding stream that preserves the $12 billion to $15 billion it needs each year to buy new aircraft carriers, destroyers, attack submarines and other ships. Other factions in the Pentagon and the government want the service to pay for the ORP within its existing budget.
The idea of a supplemental was frequently raised in recent years, but died off in mid-2012 as the Pentagon instructed the service to incorporate the program into its 30-year shipbuilding plan. But the staggering cost of the ORP would, the Navy says, mean eliminating 32 other ships.
A Navy flag officer now has renewed the call for a supplemental funding stream. The comments came at a hearing of the House Armed Services committee’s seapower subcommittee.
“Because ballistic-missile submarines are infrequently procured, they are not part of the Navy’s stable shipbuilding plan,” Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge, director of the service’s undersea warfare division, told Congress Thursday morning.
“So often you hear the debate of ‘you can either afford your general-purpose Navy or we’re going to have to do this ballistic-missile force investment,’ ” he said. “And we pit two equally important strategic instruments of power against each other, which is just an inappropriate friction. So to best accomplish this, Congress must look at a way to provide an annual supplement to the Navy during the very small margin of time that we recapitalize this submarine.”
Breckenridge said an additional $4 billion per year is needed over the 15-year ORP procurement period.
With “a supplement amount of about $4 billion per year,” he said, “we can provide the stability we need to do both, to build the right Navy general-purpose forces as well as recapitalize our [strategic submarine] force.
The resulting $60 billion, he said, “in the grand scheme, represents less than 1 percent of the DoD budget.”
If only half that total were provided, Breckenridge said the service would be required to cut four attack submarines, four Aegis destroyers, and another eight combatant ships.
“So with only half the supplement, Navy would have to compromise,” he said.
The ORP, “as a strategic requirement, should be given insulation from sequestration,” he declared.
“I agree with your analysis,” responded Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., “and ideally would like to be able to look at it with the supplements.”
“This is a conversation that has picked back up in recent weeks,” a Congressional source observed after the hearing. “There’s a lot of interest. Whether that means there’s an opening in [the office of the secretary of defense] remains to be seen.”