The National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) naval reactors budget is entering a relative lull as development ramps down on reactor design for the Navy’s flagship Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program, according to the agency’s 2020 budget request.
For Naval Reactors, which researches, develops, and manufactures reactors and refueling infrastructure for nuclear-powered Navy warships and submarines, the semiautonomous Department of Energy weapons agency seeks around $1.65 billion: about 8% less than the 2019 appropriation of $1.8 billion.
As planned, the impending — if drawn out — end of DOE-funded development for Columbia-class reactors by contractor BWX Technologies of Lynchburg, Va., figures into the year-over-year drop. The NNSA seeks only about half the funding for Columbia reactor development in fiscal 2020 as it received in 2019: around $75 million, compared with almost $140 million.
The expected drop is “consistent with the project’s planned funding profile,” reflecting the planned transition from reactor research and development to reactor manufacturing, according to the NNSA’s detailed budget request. The agency expects funding for the Columbia reactor development budget to decline each year to around $53 million in 2024: the latest budget year for which the agency made funding projections in its most recent spending plan.
BWX Technologies in February said it reached an agreement in principal on about $2 billion worth of nuclear naval nuclear propulsion contracts, some of which will be for the Navy’s Virginia-class attack submarines, but some of which will be for future Columbia-class vessels.
General Dynamics Electric Boat, the Navy’s prime contractor for the submarine itself, plans to start production of the first of 12 planned Columbia boats in 2021. The first Columbia would sail in the early 2030s, per the Navy’s current plans.
The Columbia subs will 14 replace existing Ohio-class boats, carrying Trident II D-5 missiles tipped with W76-1 warheads and, beginning some time after the 2019 fiscal year, with a limited number of low-yield W76-2 warheads.