Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) hosted a ceremonial first-cut-of-steel event on May 23, 2019, at its Newport News Shipbuilding division to mark the start of advance construction for the Columbia-class submarine program.
With the press of a button, a plasma-burning machine cut the first steel plate that will be used to build USS Columbia (SSBN-826), the lead ballistic missile submarine. As Newport News continues its digital transformation, the event also marked the first class of submarines that will be built using fully digital blueprints.
«Today is a historic day», said Jason Ward, Newport News’ vice president for Columbia-class construction. «It has been a half century since Newport News Shipbuilding has constructed a ballistic submarine. Today, we celebrate the decade-plus effort spent working with Electric Boat on the design of this new class of submarine as we formally transition from design to material procurement and now to construction execution».
Newport News is a major contractor and shipbuilding partner in the Columbia-class program and is performing advance construction activities under a contract the shipyard received from General Dynamics Electric Boat. The Columbia-class boats will replace the fleet of Ohio-class nuclear ballistic submarines. Newport News is starting its work three weeks ahead of schedule to support its advance construction efforts.
«The first cut of steel is a major construction milestone that signifies our shipyard and submarine industrial base are ready to move forward with production», Ward said. «We have worked to engage the submarine industrial base and leveraged lessons learned from the successful Virginia-class program to building the Columbia-class submarines in the most efficient and affordable manner to provide the best value to the Navy».
Ceremony participants included Newport News Shipbuilding President Jennifer Boykin; Rear Admiral Scott Pappano, Columbia’s program executive officer; Captain Jon Rucker, Columbia’s program manager; Will Lennon, vice president of the Columbia-class submarine program for General Dynamics Electric Boat; and shipbuilders.
Construction of the 12-boat Columbia class will take place in Virginia, Rhode Island and Connecticut, with Electric Boat assembling and delivering all of the submarines. The lead boat is scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in 2027.