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Leonardo DRS awards contracts to supply electric propulsion system for Columbia class subs.

| Naval News Navy 2024

According to information published by Leonardo DRS on January 10, 2024, the firm has been awarded contracts exceeding $3 billion for supplying integrated electric propulsion system products for the U.S. Navy’s new Columbia-class submarines.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001 Artist rendering of the Columbia class submarine. (Picture source: US DoD)

Under the agreement with General Dynamics Electric Boat and the U.S. Navy, Leonardo DRS will design and manufacture critical components of the Columbia Electric Drive Propulsion System.

These components include the main propulsion electric motor, motor drives, switchgear, and propulsion controls, which are integral to the submarines' primary propulsion system. The prototypes of these components have completed extensive testing at a Navy land-based facility.

Columbia-class propulsion system

One of the features of the Columbia-class is its nuclear propulsion system. The submarines use a life-of-the-ship nuclear reactor, which is intended to last for the estimated 42-year lifespan of the vessel. This design approach eliminates the need for mid-life refueling. The specifics of the reactor's efficiency and power output are not publicly disclosed, but it is generally understood to be an improvement over the reactors used in the Ohio-class submarines.

The propulsion system of the Columbia-class marks a departure from traditional mechanical drives, employing an electric drive propulsion system instead. This electric drive is expected to be quieter and require less maintenance, potentially offering improved stealth characteristics.

These submarines are also equipped with an auxiliary propulsion system (APS) for emergency scenarios and incorporate advanced maneuvering systems for better control. The design of the propeller and the submarine's hydrodynamic structure are tailored to minimize noise, which is a critical factor in submarine stealth. The exact top speed of these submarines is classified, but the combination of hydrodynamic design and propulsion power is aimed at achieving high-speed performance.

In terms of energy management, the Columbia-class submarines are designed with considerations for efficiency. The long-lasting nuclear reactor and waste management systems are intended to support extended missions without frequent resupply or maintenance.

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