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HASC Pushing for Virginia Payload Module on All Block V Attack Boats

USS Minnesota (SSN-783) under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding in 2012. US Navy Photo

USS Minnesota (SSN-783) under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding in 2012. US Navy Photo

The House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee would have the Navy put the Virginia Payload Module (VPM) on all its Block V Virginia-class attack submarines (SSN-774), rather than only two-thirds of the fleet as the Navy is currently budgeting for.

The Navy has said it needs 20 attack subs outfitted with VPM – a 70-foot hull extension that adds 28 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles or other similar payloads – to compensate for the loss of four SSGN guided missile submarines in the 2020s. Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley clarified earlier this year that the service would begin producing one VPM a year in Fiscal Year 2019 to coincide with the Block V multiyear procurement contract.

General Dynamics Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding, who build the attack submarines, will also be involved in the Ohio Replacement Program ballistic missile subs, and the Navy is trying to understand how the massive increase in workload will play out across industry. Stackley announced several studies that would look at that workload and whether VPM production could be accelerated or increased given that busy work environment.

“We have to manage the total workload at the submarine yards, we have to determine can we in fact accelerate the design and development activities to support an earlier introduction of the payload modules, and then look at balancing the workload across the two yards to do it,” Stackley said at the hearing.
“We’re looking at, first, can we pull that 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. Affordability comes into play, industrial base capacity comes into play.”

The subcommittee, however, decided it wanted VPMs on all the Block V boats.

“We basically said, that doesn’t make any sense to us, we believe that VPM needs to be resident in all Block V Virginia-class submarines,” a subcommittee staffer told reporters today ahead of Thursday’s subcommittee markup.

The staffer said the Navy’s decision to not include the additional missile tubes in all the subs was budget-based and did not make sense given the upcoming loss of the SSGNs. The staffer argued that building each attack sub with the VPM would rebuild the missile-carry capacity faster and create production line efficiencies.

Another staffer added that the committee wants to obtain sufficient information on speeding up and increasing production before making any decisions. The Virginia program is a bright spot in the Navy’s shipbuilding portfolio, the staffer said, and the committee doesn’t want to make uninformed decisions that could hurt such a stable program.

Additionally in the FY 2016 defense bill, the subcommittee includes $5.3 billion for two Virginia subs, the largest request in the shipbuilding account.

  • TTotten

    This is one of the reasons the Ford-class is so over budget. When politicians decide to accelerate the insertion of new technologies. Ford was supposed to gradually incorporate new technologies, not all at once. Instead, it was decided to move them all to the first hull. This has greatly contributed to cost overruns. The Navy has a plan and they are already budget strained. Unless Congress is willing to shell out a whole lot more money than they seem to be willing to now, they should let the Navy execute there current plan. The Virginia’s are on track because of requirement stabilization, let’s not go and wreck that now.

    • Secundius

      @ TTotten.

      Actually, Sir it’s NOT. The Carrier scheduled to be built after the JFK, was cancelled. And the money diverted to the Submarine Building Program. In ~2023, Carrier product will start again. But to be built as 1-ship every 5-years…

  • Curtis Conway

    Money in the budget later for the Slow Attack Replacement Program (Ohio) will be hard to get in the future. This covers that base, will provide more capability over time, with greater flexibility spread over more platforms, and increase survivable, available, land attack platforms. Actually it will cost a little more upfront, but will buy more in the long run. Once unit one is complete, the learning curve will begin to go vertical on the production line, and costs will come down.

    The Ford on the other hand is problematic, and the US Navy has not proven the required systems to the level required for Prime Time yet. This program should be stretched out a decade until the new radar, EMALS, and AAG are mature. In the mean time we build four (4) new USS America Class (LHA-6) Light Carriers. Relieve the USMC of their requirement to buy and support F-35Cs, and restore their total force of F-35Bs to man the Light Carriers. Maybe the US Navy Reserve would like to do F-35Bs for Light Carrier Operations. And . . . we need that pressurized V-22 for safer COD missions (fly over weather), and facilitate that EV-22 AEW&C Osprey. Authorized Lockheed Martin to develop the KC-3A Super Viking and the F-135 (and F-35 upgrade engine) are covered for the future, and long range COD in the Pacific is a done deal.

  • Rob C.

    I wish there was another avenue to replace the SSGNs, having them in Virgina Class won’t make up the loss, more hulls may keep a single loss of large SSGN less of blow. However, I rather see larger ship. With the Ohio Class Replacement program becoming (hopefully) a separate program, maybe they can convince them keep costs down by continuing additional ships as variant like when they converted the earlier Ohios into SSGNs. Big boats with large payloads would be better i would hope. Making Hybrid SSN exclusively a lesser missile boat won’t make it effective SSN, i would imagine.