The total cost of the US navy’s new ballistic missile submarine fleet will be an “eye-watering” $US100 billion ($128b).
Earlier this week, Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said deep under the ocean remains the best best place to hide a nuclear deterrent – but it comes at a price.
The US Navy is seeking to build a fleet of 12 Colombia-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), reports The Diplomat.
“All of sudden you’re talking about the submarines and there is a number that will make your eyes water. Columbia will be a $100 billion program for its lifetime.
“We have to do it. I think we have to have big discussions about it,” Spencer added.
Underwater has proved to date the most elusive environment for detecting an SSBN, he explained.
However, “it comes at a price,” the Navy secretary added.
Construction of the first Columbia-class sub is scheduled to start in 2021, with the US navy taking delivery from 2028.
Australian maritime warfare expert James Goldrick told nine.com.au the US is determined to keep its edge in submarine technology.
Despite recent developments in underwater detection, submarines remain difficult to pinpoint, he said.
“The sea is a very complex medium. It remains the most impenetrable environment, and I think the US is banking on this continuing.”
And Rear Admiral Goldrick said despite Russia and China unveiling new planned nuclear weapons, the US maintains an advantage in submarine technology.
“The Americans are well ahead of the Chinese. The Russians, however, have become well advanced in modernising their submarine fleet.”
The Columbia-class vessels are due to replace the US navy’s current Ohio-class SSBN fleet.
Technical details of the new vessels remain sketchy, but they are set to be the biggest sub the US navy has ever commissioned, The Diplomat reports.
Designed by General Dynamics Electric Boat, they measure 171m and have a beam of 13m.
The first sub delivered to the US Navy will cost $US14.5b, according to the Congressional Research Office. The remaining 11 vessels are estimated to cost $US8b.