(Bloomberg) -- The US Navy is pushing back the estimated first delivery of its next-generation nuclear-armed submarine by 12-16 months, the most significant schedule slip to date for the service’s top acquisition program.

The Navy disclosed the delays in the Columbia-class submarine program in a new shipbuilding review that was announced Tuesday. 

The first of the Columbia class’s 12 subs, all of which will carry intercontinental ballistic missiles, was contractually set to be delivered in October 2027. It’s another setback for the program, which is seen as a crucial replacement to the aging Ohio-class ICBM fleet. Last year, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the cost of the program would reach about $120 billion, or 20% over initial estimates. The submarines are being built by General Dynamics Corp. and HII.

More broadly, the projected submarine delay when combined with new cost growth projections for the Northrop Grumman Corp. ground-based Sentinel ICBM and a first flight delay is likely to raise more complaints among arms control advocates that the US multi-billion dollar nuclear modernization effort is floundering in the face of major Chinese improvements. 

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Even before the delay, the program had little margin for error to meet the contractual schedule deadline set by the Navy. That would see the Columbia to deploy in 2031.

“A delay of that length would make it more likely for the Navy to implement its backup plan to extend the service lives of up to five Ohio-class by a little bit,” said Ronald O’Rourke, naval analyst for the Congressional Research Service. “There would be some cost for doing those service life extensions.”

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The vessel’s new projected delay can’t be attributed to one factor or a new technical issue, Navy officials told reporters Tuesday. Instead, the delays are “related to the whole of the ship,” in terms of assembling its modules correctly, “getting them all buttoned up,” said Navy assistant secretary for acquisition Nickolas Guertin.

And although some components are late, the projected delays don’t appear related to technology performance issue, said Naval Sea Systems Command head Vice Admiral Jim Downey.

At least one key lawmaker questions the depth and breathe of the review and vowed a deep examination. 

“The review shows some of the metrics sought” by Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro on “the impact of Covid on production cadence,” said Representative Joe Courtney of Connecticut Democrat, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services seapower subcommittee.

Still, “the review lacks specifics on the source of program delays on both the Columbia and Virginia programs, which Congress needs in order to determine the path forward,” Courtney said in a statement. In addition to the Columbia delay, the review projects delivery delays of 24- to 36- months with Virginia-class submarines.

 “A review focused on pandemic delays alone begs the question on how to best recover delivery of critically needed platforms,” he said.

(Updates throughout. Previous versions corrected source of cost estimate, in the third paragraph, and the spelling of Columbia in the final paragraph.)

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