WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy’s Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program is getting a new head and a new program office, the service’s top acquisition boss announced Wednesday.

Program Executive Office Columbia will be stood up this month and headed by Rear Adm. Scott Pappano, a graduate of the Naval Academy and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He most recently headed up the Naval Undersea Warfare Center.

The program was previously organized under PEO Submarines. But with two Virginia-class attack subs under construction annually, as well as a move taking place to a new Virginia sub with an added section to expand its Tomahawk missile capacity, plus the upcoming SSN(X) program, James Geurts, the Navy’s head of research and development, saw a need to maintain a steady focus on Columbia through a dedicated office.

“My concern was with Columbia being our No. 1 acquisition priority and all the other submarine activities we have going on, do we have enough leadership bandwidth available to oversee and run all those programs simultaneously?” Geurts said in a roundtable with reporters. “As I understand the challenges going forward, [I wanted to] get PEO-level support to that program as it starts ramping up. And I didn’t want to wait for a crisis for that to occur; I wanted to make sure we are proactively working the program.”

Going forward, PEO Columbia will focus on finishing the design and getting Columbia under construction, as well as working with the United Kingdom on the joint aspects of the program. Naval Sea Systems Command’s 07 office will handle maintenance on in-service submarines, and PEO Submarines will handle all aspects of Virginia and the common elements between the various platforms.

“They have to work as a team because that is a very integrated and interconnected enterprise,” Geurts said.

An earlier setback with Columbia — where a vendor delivered improperly inspected welds in missile tubes destined for Columbia, the Virginia payload modules and the U.K.'s Columbia-class program — did not play into the decision to stand up PEO Columbia, Geurts said.

“I don’t think this is in reaction to anything that’s happened in the past,” Geurts said. “It’s really in recognition of all the hard work we’ve got going in the future. I’m a fan of the Jack Welch quote, ‘Change before you have to.’ It was really me looking a couple of years into the future, when we’ve got the first Columbia in productions, we’ve got two Virginias a year and we’ve got SSN(X) starting up — a lot of technology efforts. It was about ensuring that we had a senior leader, every day, focused on our No. 1 acquisition priority.”

David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News. Before that, he reported for Navy Times.

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