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Navy Starting Work on New SSN(X) Nuclear Attack Submarine

Virginia-class attack submarine Pre-commissioning unit (PCU) John Warner (SSN 785) on Sept. 1, 2014. US Navy Photo

Virginia-class attack submarine Pre-commissioning unit (PCU) John Warner (SSN 785) on Sept. 1, 2014. US Navy Photo

The U.S. Navy is starting early preparation work to design a new nuclear attack submarine to replace the Virginia-class boats (SSN-774) in the 2030s. The new attack boat would become operational in 2044 after the last Block VII Virginias are built.

“The long range shipbuilding plan is for a new SSN authorized in 2034 in lieu of the eighth block of Virginia-class,” Rear Adm. Dave Johnson, Naval Sea Systems Command’s program executive officer for submarines told the Naval Submarine League Symposium in Falls Church, Va., on Thursday
“2034 may seem far off, but the design research community needs to take action now.”
There will likely be an analysis of alternative for the new submarine—which has tentatively dubbed SSN(X) — in about 10 years or 2024.

That, Johnson said, leaves nine years to identify, design and demonstrate the new technologies the new attack boat will need.

Johnson said that he has formed a small team to work on a five-year plan to begin to do some of that work. The team will consult with industry and will identify the threat environment and technologies the submarine will need to operate against in the 2050 plus timeframe, Johnson said.

One of the areas Johnson has already indentified as critical for SSN(X) is integration with off-board systems. Vice Adm. Mike Connor, Commander of Submarine Force, Atlantic (COMSUBLANT), said that future submarine weapons for both the Virginia and the future SSN(X) would be networked extremely long-ranged weapons.

Some of the concepts include a new prototype torpedo propulsion system from Pennsylvania State University — a torpedo could hit targets that could hit targets more than 200 nautical miles away.

“I’m not sure I’m mentally prepared to employ a 200-mile torpedo, but I’m going to put some thought into that,” Connor said.

Connor said that while an attack boat like the Virginia or SSN(X) might launch a torpedo, the targeting data might come from another platform.

Those other platforms could include an aircraft like an unmanned aerial vehicle launched from the submarine or something like a Boeing P-8 Poseidon. In fact, in the submarine might not even guide the weapon to its target in the terminal phase of the engagement, Connor said.

  • Chesapeakeguy

    Well, given a ‘schedule’ of 30 years to design, evaluate, test, construct, and deploy this new sub, I sure hope they do succeed in working all the bugs out! Any guess on how much this will ultimately cost? They’re going to have to replace the Ohio class boomers before that.

    • Rob C.

      Its going be in a long run, Congress is fighting things left and right. I don’t know if they’ll manage get the boomers commission in time. Later Blocks are going end up role of SSG* significantly even if they’re lacking capacity.

      • Hit Manfan

        If we want an SSGN and we are concerned about capacity, we will stretch a Virginia class boat. But, I don’t think that will be a problem.

        • Mike W

          It already is planned for Block IV builds to incorporate 4 VPTs.

    • Mike W

      SSBN redesign started years ago…

  • NavySubNuke

    “There will likely be an analysis of alternative for the new submarine—which has tentatively dubbed SSN(X) — in about 10 years or 2024”
    10 years from AoA to authorization? Right…….

    • Hit Manfan

      I don’t believe that there is a new SSN(X) code at NAVSEA that is spending any money on this effort.

      • NavySubNuke

        Virginia Payload Module is the launch tube, defense wide account is paying for the missile under CPGS.

        • Hit Manfan

          you are right but that isn’t a new class feature, just a new block to the Virginia Class.

          • NavySubNuke

            Ah yes, sorry. I lost track of which thread this was. If the AoA isn’t until 2024 then they won’t spend any money on this until 2020 – 2022 time frame. That is when early work will start on the ICD and other documents needed for the AoA.
            My question is why they think they can go from AoA to authorization in 10 years. That just seems fast given the current JCIDs timeline.

  • Secundius

    Why not just call it the SSN-785, USS. JOHN WARNER of the SOUTH DAKOTA class SSN, instead of VIRGINIA Block III class. This way there’s less confusion, on what your talking about.

    • Rob C.

      Its part of the problem with Congress. Its easier to get a variant of an existing ship Class commissioned verses a completely new series. Its unfortunately Theatrics. Block IIIs and later ships should traditionally be their own Class of vessel. US Politics at work as usual.

      • Mike W

        Why? Because of a new array and a few hotel services? I believe you dont know the differences between block II and block III…

    • Mike W

      Because blocks are not class ships and not IAW naming conventions silly…

    • Hit Manfan

      A Block change is very limited as opposed to a class change which is a completely different submarine.

  • Jules

    Wonder what they anticipate for crew size. I would expect a much reduced crew size 30 years down the road.

    • minutemanIII

      Very good question.

      one key cost savings down the line of ship/boat deployment is smaller crew=lower cost to deploy.
      considering that about 30% of overall budget is personal.
      For example the ddg-51 with a crew of over 200 is going to cost more while on deployment than the ddg-1000with a crew of under 100.
      every day the zumalt is on deployment it is seeing a 50% savings in crew operation cost.

    • Hit Manfan

      There is a point where there is a minimum crew size that you can’t go below. That size may be determined by damage control requirements if no other reason.

  • Secundius

    Well one thing for sure, these aren’t Attack Submarines, TOO SLOW… 25-knots maximum speed. 12-Verticle Launch Tube for Tomahawk Cruise Missiles, complement varies from 127 to 134. And a maximum operation depth rating of ~800-feet. Definitely NOT, Attack Submarine performance specification. An SSGN cruising submarine.

    • Jiesheng Li

      Maybe they could do away with the 12 VLS and have all torpedo launched weapons Land, anti-ship missiles and torpedoes just like the British Astutes

      • Secundius

        @ Jiesheng Li.

        Probably has more to do with the screw design? Increase the amount blades used in screw design. The greater the amount of water being forced behind the submarine, increasing the overall speed.

        • John Allard

          Modern US Subs aren’t being designed with screws. They use pump jet propulsors, greatly reducing cavition noise.

          • Secundius

            @ John Allard.

            If you use a Unducted Fan Configuration with Counter-Rotating Blades. The RPM’s can be reduced and still provide the same amount of thrust.

          • Boobs

            Is the sub full of seamen ?

        • Mike W

          Plant size…

    • Rob C.

      You may realize that top speeds of these submarines are classified. They won’t tell you how REALLY fast they are, There is such a think keeping certain info out hands of potential opponents.
      As far calling them, Attack Submarines. That is still what their doing. Their attacking. SSGN is every submarine now, it fires a missile through it torpedo tubed it a SSG* type vessel. Its redundant way identifying vessel. Its same way for surface vessels, their all guided-missile *type of ship*. As long as it has a dedicate radar system to guide them to the target, their guided missile. Most are, with exception of smaller ships.

  • Rob C.

    I’m glad their going ahead start thinking of the future. I just hope they can afford it. Attack Submarine is the real offensive weapon of the US Navy, the surface ships aren’t as effective at it as their more used as missile platforms in defense and strike missions.
    Hopefully they won’t have go through a expensive Seawolf episode to nail down what is doable and affordable. Virginia a step-down version of Seawolf, prototype ship may be required get things right though.

    • Mike W

      Why do you believe it to be a “step down”? Speed? Weapons employment? Most certainty not mission capibilities…

      • Hit Manfan

        It is a step down. By every measure that we judge a submarine by. Va Class wasn’t intended to be better, just cheaper.

        • Mike W

          Please define “we”. Newer technology, enhanced capabilities, acoustically more quiet, multiple mission platform is not what I would consider a step down without diving into the classified areas… If you are talking speed and a multiple weapons employment system , that is just a silly measure.

          • Hit Manfan

            the tech is pretty much the same and where did you hear that 774 class was quieter than the 21 class? By design and capability it IS a step down. 774 was designed to be cheaper not better…

          • Mike W

            The “tech” is not even close, and it is not me “hearing” about the acoustic abilities but knowing. I am privy to that information and you are obviously not. It is not a discussion point because it is factual. The 21 was a platform for technical design improvements but was never designed for longevity. 774 was designed to replace the aging 88s using 21 technology and newer improvements since. It is indeed cheaper but your claim of inferior is laughable at best. I worked at NUWC and was stationed aboard both platforms. You?

          • Hit Manfan

            450

    • Hit Manfan

      The first few boats of any class are always expensive. The first several Virginia Class boats cost as much as the first two Seawolf class boats did… Roughly $4B each.

      • There was only one Sea Wolf.

        • boobs

          3 seswolf

    • boobs

      Is the sub full of seemen ?