Attack Submarines:

Alternatives for a More Affordable SSN Force Structure

NSIAD-95-16: Published: Oct 13, 1994. Publicly Released: Nov 14, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) the Navy's strategy for maintaining its nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) force structure; and (2) less costly alternatives for maintaining the SSN force.

GAO found that: (1) to maintain its SSN force at the directed size and within affordable budgets, the Navy plans to extend the SSN operational cycle between major maintenance periods, limit costly SSN-688 submarine refuelings to 3 per year, and operate the submarines for their entire 30-year design life; (2) the Navy plans to procure 31 SSN through year 2014 at an estimated cost of $48 billion; (3) the Navy's approach will allow it to maintain a SSN force of 55 submarines; (4) if the Navy procured only 25 SSN, it would save $9 billion in procurement costs and maintain a SSN force of almost 55 submarines through 2013, but the force would decline to 45 SSN by 2020; (5) the Navy could consider studying the feasibility of extending the submarines' operational life beyond 30 years and deferring $8 billion in procurement costs; (6) this alternative would reduce the number of submarines the Navy would need to build and save $17 billion in total costs; (7) because there is no need for new SSN before 2001, the Navy could defer SSN construction, which would free up billions of dollars in the near term; and (8) the impact of deferring SSN construction on the industrial base is unclear because of disagreement over what constitutes critical vendors and the costs needed to reconstitute the industrial base.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has not debated submarine force structure in this session. Debate on funding a third Seawolf submarine included references to information contained in the report and in later GAO testimony.

    Matter: Congress should consider these analyses of less costly alternatives as it deliberates SSN force structure and acquisition issues.


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