STEWART AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. — The U.S. Navy may begin investing in life extensions for some Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines earlier than expected, with the service secretary telling a crowd that spending could begin in fiscal 2025.

The Navy requires at least 10 of these submarines are available for operations at any given time. These ballistic missile submarines lurk in waters around the globe with nuclear missiles onboard, their sole mission being to remain hidden and ready if called upon in a doomsday scenario.

As a hedge against shortfalls in the 2030s as the Ohio class reaches the end of its life and the Columbia class enters service, the Navy has considered extending select Ohio boats by a few years. In November, submarine community leaders said a decision would be made by FY26 so work could start in FY29.

While speaking at a May 5 defense innovation roundtable in Newburgh, New York, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said the service has “now determined five where we can actually extend those service lives, and in the ’25 budget we’re [planning on] putting in money to make that investment so we can extend those lives.”

Del Toro told Defense News in a May 18 statement that this new timeline is his intention but remains subject to the 2025 budgeting process.

The Navy has already extended the life of the entire Ohio class, from 30 years to 42 years. In 2020, submarine community leaders acknowledged that while the Navy couldn’t extend the entire class again, it could look at each individual hull and determine if any were in good enough physical condition to continue operations for a few more years.

The replacements for the Ohio boast, the Columbia class of ballistic missile submarines, is on schedule; Navy leadership said it fell a few months behind a more aggressive goal but is still on track to meet its contractual construction schedule.

Prime contractor General Dynamics Electric Boat and its suppliers have been able to devote significant attention to the lead ship, bought in FY21, due to a three-year gap between the first and second boats. There’s a two-year gap between the second and third boats, and beginning in FY26 the Navy will buy the remaining 10 at a pace of one per year.

“There is still the mountain to climb: When we go to one Columbia a year, starting in 2026 for 10 straight years, there’s hiring that’s required” at Electric Boat and at its suppliers, the acting assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, Jay Stefany, told Defense News in September 2021 when discussing the potential life extensions.

“So if you were to ask me, I’d say Columbia No. 1, pretty high confidence. Columbia No. 2, yeah, pretty high as well. But when we start going three, four, five, six, seven, all in a row ... that’s the risk,” he said.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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