‘Largest Submarines Ever Built’ – US Takes Lead Over China With Its ‘Super Lethal’ Columbia-Class Nuke Subs?

Twelve Columbia-class nuclear submarines of the US Navy will replace the 14 aging Ohio-class boats in service that will begin retiring in 2027. The Columbia-class will be longer and heavier than the existing Ohio-class SSBNs and will have a complex electric drive propulsion system and associated technology.

On June 4, members of the US Congress and US Navy officials joined employees of General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB) in a ‘keel laying’ ceremony for the US Navy’s next-generation Columbia-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) — USS District of Columbia (SSBN 826), at GDEB’s facility in Quonset Point, Rhode Island.

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During a keel-laying ceremony, the ship sponsor initials are welded onto a steel plate for installation on the submarine. It will remain throughout the boat’s service life to remind the crew of the strong bond between the vessel and her sponsor.

The USS District of Columbia is the first ship in the new class of SSBNs built for the US Navy by GDEB, sponsored by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), the delegate to the House of Representatives from the ship’s namesake, the District of Columbia.

“With the Columbia-class program, the Navy has entrusted Electric Boat to deliver the next sixty years of nuclear deterrence for our nation, continuing the company’s legacy of delivering the finest, most technically advanced submarines in the world.

These submarines are critical for our national defense and will embody the commitment to excellence our shipbuilders bring to their work daily,” said Kevin Graney, president of GDEB.

Artist’s rendering of the Columbia-class SSBN submarine. US Navy Image

While Congresswoman Norton said, “The Columbia-class will be the largest, most capable, and most advanced submarine produced by our nation.”

Largest Class Of Submarines Ever Built

Twelve Columbia-class nuclear submarines will replace the 14 aging Ohio-class boats in service that will begin retiring in 2027. The conceptual design of the upcoming class of SSBNs started in 2007, and the construction of the lead boat, SSBN-826, began on October 1, 2020.

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The Columbia-class will be longer and heavier than the existing Ohio-class SSBNs and will have a complex electric drive propulsion system and associated technology.

The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS West Virginia (SSBN 736) departs Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va. following an engineering refueling overhaul on October 24, 2013. (US Navy)

The Columbia class will be the largest class of submarines ever built by the US. Each of the planned dozen boats will be 560 feet long with a beam of 43 feet and displacement of 20,810 tons.

The submarines will boast a life-of-ship reactor, which means the reactor will not need refueling during the lifetime of planned service, making the ship more cost-effective to operate and maximizing its time on deployment. The service life of each submarine is said to be 42 years.

The Columbia-class submarines will carry 16 missiles each, which in total will represent approximately 70% of the country’s operational nuclear deterrent arsenal. Also, the new subs will feature the joint American-British developed Common Missile Compartment (CMC) on the Royal Navy’s new Dreadnought-class submarines.

New Upgraded & Stealthy MK 48 Torpedo

In addition to 16 missiles, the new subs will be equipped with an upgraded variant of the MK 48 Mod 7 torpedo, according to the Naval Sea Systems Command report on the keel laying of the USS District of Columbia.

A MK 48 Mod 7 torpedo is 21 inches in diameter and weighs 3520 pounds (1596.645 kilograms). It can destroy targets at ranges of up to 5 miles (8.04km) and travels at speeds greater than 28 knots (14.40m/s).

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The weapon can operate at depths greater than 1,200 feet and fires a 650-pound (294.83kg) high-explosive warhead, according to data from the US Navy and Lockheed Martin.

MK-48 (Lockheed Martin)

The upgraded torpedo variant is said to have stealth characteristics that can help ensure the Columbia-class submarines remain undetected at sea.

An earlier version, the MK 48 Mod 6, has been operational since 1997, while the more recent Mod 7 has been in service since 2006. Since then, Lockheed Martin has reportedly been working on upgrades that involve adjusting the guidance control box, broadband sonar acoustic receiver, and amplifier components.

“The latest MK 48 ADCAP (advanced capability) version is the mod 7 Common Broadband Advanced Sonar System. The MK 48 ADCAP mod 7 CBASS torpedo is the result of a Joint Development Program with the Royal Australian Navy and achieved initial operational capability in 2006,” a spokesman with Naval Sea Systems Command had said several years ago during the early phase of its development.

CBASS technology provides streamlined targeting, quieter propulsion capabilities, and the ability to operate with improved effectiveness in shallow and deep water.

Columbia-Class Subs – US Navy’s Top Priority

Building the 12 Columbia-class submarines has been the US Navy’s top priority for the last decade to maintain an edge over emerging undersea rivals, such as China.

Last month, satellite photos revealed that China is building a new and powerful nuclear submarine with a more advanced propulsion system than its active Type 093 variants.

China’s active Type 093 nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) can launch its YJ-18 anti-ship cruise missiles. In contrast, an upgraded Type 094A armed with the vertically launched JL-3 ballistic missile with a range of over 6,200 miles (10,000km) – is capable of hitting the US mainland.

China has built 12 nuclear submarines over the past 15 years, including six Type 093 SSNs and upgraded variants and a further six Type 094 SSBNs, according to a US Defense Department report last year.