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Navy Looking at Accelerating VPM Design to Allow Earlier Production

Virginia-class attack submarine Minnesota (SSN-783) under construction in 2012. US Navy Photo

Virginia-class attack submarine Minnesota (SSN-783) under construction in 2012. US Navy Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Navy is looking into the feasibility of accelerating design and development work on the Virginia Payload Module (VPM) in case the service decides to begin production earlier than the 2019 planned start, Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley said Wednesday at a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearing.

The VPM will add 28 missile tubes to Block V Virginia-class attack submarines (SSN-774), to provide more strike capability from undersea as the fleet prepares to lose the Ohio-class SSGN guided missile submarine fleet in the mid-2020s. The Navy planned to start VPM construction in conjunction with the next Virginia-class multiyear contract in 2019, but Stackley said that the SSGNs represent a 600-missile capacity and that sooner is better when it comes to rebuilding that strike capacity.

Stackley told the HASC seapower and projection forces subcommittee that he had spoken to the Program Executive Office for Submarines and to the submarine industrial base “to take a look at, can we in fact complete those design and development activities earlier than the 2019 timeframe to give the Navy and the nation the option to determine whether or not we want to advance Virginia Payload Modules earlier than the submarine build cycle.”

“We’re looking at first, can we pull [design and development] to the left a year, and the other aspect is what would be our ability to increase the rate of production of VPMs beyond one per year, which is in our current long-range plan.,” Stackley later elaborated. “Affordability comes into play, industrial base capacity comes into play.”

He said the discussions were ongoing and he would know by March or April what the options were in terms of accelerating VPM progress, though subcommittee chairman Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) pressed for the information sooner to help inform ongoing budget discussions in Congress.

The Navy decided in November 2013 that it would add a 70-foot section to the new-construction Virginia-class subs, and that section would include four Virginia Payload Tubes. Each tube would contain seven Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM), bringing the submarine’s total load from 12 to 40 TLAMs. The VPM addition would be made beginning with the Block V version of the subs, which would be bought in the 2019 multiyear contract.

One problem the Navy and industry will face, however, is a sharp spike in workload by the end of the decade. Virginia-class submarine procurement is set at two-a-year, but General Dynamics Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding are not currently delivering the subs that quickly. Even as the yards are ramping up to achieve two-a-year delivery, they will need to prepare for one-a-year – or more – VPM production in 2019 and Ohio-replacement ballistic missile submarine production in 2021, according to current Navy plans.

Stackley told reporters after the hearing that the Ohio-replacement was the top priority and needed to stay on schedule regardless of what happens. An ongoing Submarine Build Strategy is looking at what options the Navy and industry have to prepare for the steep uptick in work as the new programs head toward construction.

  • NavySubNuke

    The article says early on that this adds 28 missile tubes – that is incorrect. It adds 4 87 inch missile tubes that can carry up to 7 TLAMs. The real question is what else a tube that is 87 inches around and 30+ feet tall can carry.
    Just as long as they make sure it is too small to carry a D5 otherwise we might have to let the Russians come inspect them as part of New START.

    • Alan P. Tracy

      Certainly a valid concern. The same reason that the Navy is resisting too much initially built-in multi-purposing of the Ohio replacement. We do not want to confuse our allies or nuclear rivals.

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  • old guy

    The truth is that the Navy has never gotten over the fact that the USSR had the 31,000 ton “Typhon”. I was out on the early trials of the Ohio and it was a leading topic and has been since. The REAL, unaddressed problem was the superiority of the Titanium “Alpha” attack sub. Quel domage.

    • Secundius

      @ old guy.

      The problem with the Navy is, they think if they can’t do it, nobody else can either. And the reason the Typhoon Boomer and Alpha Attack Sub were made of Titanium, is because Russian has the Corner Market on Titanium in the World. Even the US. has to get it’s Titanium from Russia…

      • old guy

        We have enough Ti to build all the subs we want, of that material. Mostly, we use it for paint pigment (TiO2). The Russians would sell us all we want, anyway. The stuff that we import comes from them, indirectly. Incidentally, they have a traveling vacuum EB welder that produces welds with 97%+ native strength in the weld zone. They demonstrated it to one of OUR welding experts years ago. He even cited it in one of his books.

        • Secundius

          @ old guy.

          We could also use that new Aluminium-Lithium Alloy, which is Lighter that Aluminium and Almost as strong as Titanium and a Lot Cheaper. Congress, should have no problem funding something that is CHEAP…

          • old guy

            Three problems:
            1 COST- almost $9.00/# last check OK for Lunar Orbiter shroud( (about 700#) but not a sub
            2. AVAILABILITY- no current production that I know of
            3. HANDLING. Slightly radioactive (Alpha emitter)

          • Secundius

            @ old guy.

            So, I guess the difference is. Being Blown Apart Outright or Two-Head Children…

          • old guy

            Don’t talk about our government’s kids that way.

          • Secundius

            @ old guy.

            It was a rhetorical comment, not meant to be taken seriously…

          • old guy

            I know, I know…….but you’re idea is intriguing.

          • Secundius

            @ old guy.

            First I thought of a Computer Simulation Attack, but opted out of it. Because, any Computer Simulation can be “Rigged” to support any point of view. Then, I thought of a Live Fire Test Simulation of a Target with the same physical characteristics of the ship. But even that can be “Staged”. So the only way to satisfy everybody is to do a Live Test on a actual ship. Expensive, Oh YES, but sometimes sacrifices have to be made, too prove a point. Consider it like a Car Crash Safety Test…

          • old guy

            CONCUR

          • Secundius

            @ old guy.

            The only way I see it, and “Laying Any Lingering Doubts To Rest”. Is a Test Sacrifice of an LCS/FF class ship. Convert a LCS/FF class as a Drone and do a Live Firing on the Ships with either a Harpoon or TLAM. After the Test, we’ll know either way…

  • Secundius

    @ NavySubNuke.

    I think the “28” is a typo error, unless their including the Torpedo Tubes. It’s suppose to be 24-Tubes, 22 of which with 7-TLAM’s in each Tube for a total of 154-TLAM’s. Two of the Tubes are referred to as Payload Modules or Vertical “Mud Room’s” for Advance SEAL Deliver System…