Groton — The Navy has awarded Electric Boat a $5.1 billion contract to finish the design of the first Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, and prepare for construction.
News of the contract came after 5 p.m. Thursday via a daily contract announcement put out by the Department of Defense. EB put out a statement shortly thereafter, quoting its President Jeff Geiger as saying that the company "will continue to lead critical aspects of the Columbia-class development effort, including design, material procurement, construction and operating-cost reduction, to achieve an affordable and effective program."
About 3,000 EB employees are working on the design of the submarine. Construction of the first submarine in the class, the USS Columbia (SSBN 826), is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2020. The Navy plans to build a fleet of 12 of these ballistic missile submarines to replace the 14 Ohio-class "boomers" currently in service.
The Navy will start retiring the Ohio submarines, which were built in the 1980s and 1990s, in 2027, and the first Columbia submarine isn't expected to go on patrol until 2030. That puts the program, a top priority for the Navy, on a tight timeline with no room for error, officials have said.
Ballistic missile submarines carry the majority of the country's active nuclear arsenal and are part of a larger $1 trillion effort to modernize the U.S. nuclear triad.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat, whose 2nd District includes EB's headquarters in Groton and its New London engineering campus, issued a statement hailing the awarding of the contract, which he said "kicks off the next critical phase of the Columbia class program."
"This work is fueling economic growth and hiring across the region, and today's contract keeps that momentum going," Courtney said.
The state's two U.S. senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, also applauded the announcement Thursday evening.
“This $5 billion contract is great news for Connecticut and our undersea superiority — keeping workers on the job at Electric Boat producing the best submarines in the world," they said in a joint statement. "This contract proves that for years to come, EB will continue to expand high-paying jobs, making an important investment in our state’s future and our national security."
"This new class of ballistic missile submarines is the Navy's top priority program, and we will continue fighting to ensure robust funding for it,” the senators said.
In January, the Columbia program was established as an official program of record after achieving what is known as "Milestone B," meaning it could enter the advanced development phase.
The total cost of the program is expected to be $128 billion, with each submarine costing $8 billion.
As the prime contractor for the Columbia-class program, EB will design and deliver all 12 boats. Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia will perform about 22 to 23 percent of the production work as a subcontractor.
The contract announced Thursday follows a five-year, $1.85 billion award EB received in December 2012 to perform research and development work for the Columbia submarines.