Why the US Navy’s Aging Ohio-Class Submarines Are Getting a Life Extension Until 2040

The Ohio-class submarines have been the US Navy's more prominent nuclear deterrence for decades... And they will retain this role for at least a decade more.
USS Maryland for routine operations

The Ohio-class submarines are the largest and most powerful submarines ever built by the United States. 

There are 18 of these massive submarines active, and they have been in service since 1981. However, recent reports suggest that these submarines might not be able to retire any time soon because of the delays in the Columbia-class submarines program that are having many technical problems.

How long will the Ohio-class submarines be in service? Will they be quickly replaced by the Columbia-class submarines?

Advertisements

The Ohio-class submarines

Ohio-class guided-missile submarine
Ohio-class guided-missile submarine by U.S. Navy Page. Licensed under CC by 2.0

The Ohio-class submarine is a class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) used by the United States Navy. Their design was developed in the 1970s to respond to the Soviet Navy’s development of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) capable of launching cruise missiles. 

The Ohio-class submarines are the largest class of submarines in the US and the third biggest submarines in the world behind the Soviet/Russian Typhoon class and Borei class.

There are 18 Ohio-class submarines in service, with each submarine capable of carrying 24 Trident II D5 missiles.

Advertisements

These missiles can hit targets more than 7500 miles away (12,000 kilometers) with nuclear warheads. As a result, these submarines are one of the most lethal in the world. 

Columbia class to replace the Ohio class

USS Michigan
USS Michigan by Brian Nokell. Public Domain.

The Navy is currently working on a new class of submarines, known as the Columbia-class. However, it is not clear if the Columbia-class will be able to replace the Ohio-class entirely in the short term.

The Columbia class submarines are the future of the US Navy. These submarines are being redesigned to be far superior to the Ohio-class submarines.

Advertisements

These submarines are expected to be in service around 2030 as they are considered a priority in the US Navy for their role as nuclear submarines and TACAMO (take charge and move out) mission in conjunction with the Boeing E-6 Mercury.

Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine
Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine by U.S. Navy illustration/released. Public Domain

But, the Columbia-class submarines program is extraordinarily ambitious. It is a program that exceeds $100 billion in costs and has encountered numerous technical problems in its development.

However, the Ohio-class submarines are expected to be out of service by 2040 when they will have been replaced by the Columbia-class.

Advertisements

So, it is possible that some of the Ohio-class submarines will need to stay in service longer than initially planned. This would be a costly endeavor, but the cost of building new submarines is even higher.

The life-extension plan for the Ohio-class submarine is still in the evaluation stage, while construction continues on the Columbia-class submarine.

Ohio-class submarines specs

Ohio class guided-missile submarine
Ohio class guided-missile submarine by Dean Lohmeyer. Public Domain.
  • Builder: General Dynamics Electric Boat
  • Cost per unit: $3.06 billion
  • Built: 1976–1997
  • Planned: 24
  • Completed: 18
  • Displacement: 16,764 tons 
  • Length: 560 feet (170 meters)
  • Beam: 42 feet (13 meters)
  • Draft: 35.5 feet (10.8 meters) 
  • Speed: 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph) submerged
  • Test depth: +800 feet (240 meters)

Ohio class submarines are here to stay… until Columbia class is ready for service

The US Navy is currently evaluating the options for the Ohio-class submarines. It will probably choose to retire the older Ohio-class submarines and leave the newer ones in service while they are gradually replaced by the Columbia class as they enter service.

Advertisements

Whatever decision is made, it is clear that the Ohio-class submarines have been a key deterrent of any other nation from attacking the United States because they feature an immense nuclear capability with their Trident missiles.


Feature image credit: USS Maryland prepares to get underway for routine operations by U.S. Navy Page. Licensed under CC by 2.0