The Program Executive Office for Submarines would like to see the Virginia Payload Module built into all its Block V subs from a warfighting perspective but will have to verify that doing so will not hurt ongoing Virginia sub construction or upcoming Ohio Replacement Program construction..
PEO Subs executive director George Drakeley said last week at the annual Naval Submarine League symposium that the Virginia Payload Module would help the Virginia-class attack subs (SSN-774) replace the SSGN guided missile subs.
“The warfighters have come to love that platform,” Drakeley said of the SSGNs.
“Those ships are getting used and used hard,” with parts wearing out earlier than expected due to heavy use in the fleet.
“The VPM is the follow-on basically for SSGNs, and with the kind of support it has, the program is actually probably in pretty good shape,” he said.
“Right now the plan of record is to build one VPM a year starting in [Fiscal Year 2019] through the shipbuilding plan. There is now kind of support for the possibility of, after we start building Virginia VPM … to make all of the Virginias VPM-Virginias. I think that makes sense from a shipbuilding point of view, and from a capability for the Navy” point of view, he said.
Drakeley said the PEO set up a Submarine Unified Build Strategy (SUBS) group to study industry capability to handle the Virginia class, one or two VPMs a year, and the upcoming Ohio Replacement Program.
PEO Subs Rear Adm. David Johnson “about a year ago realized that with the Ohio coming up and the work in that, and in the increased work of the industrial base, and making sure that we do no harm to the Virginia program, realized that we had to have a plan,” Drakeley said.
“Adm. Johnson also tasked the two shipbuilders to come up with their plan, and we’ve been spending this summer integrating our plans to make sure we do the best thing for the submarine programs.”
General Dynamics Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding build the Virginia-class attack boats and are expected to participate in the VPM and ORP programs.
Virginia class program manager Capt. Mike Stevens told USNI News after a panel presentation that the Navy needed to balance warfighting capability, cost, industry capacity and many other factors in making a final decision. That decision will likely be made by the end of the year, he said.
Navy spokeswoman Capt. Thurraya Kent told USNI News that “the Navy is completing its analysis of the feasibility of accelerating VPM, and a report to Congress is due in December.”
The Navy first mentioned the idea of accelerating the VPM program in February in testimony to the House Armed Services Committee, and in April HASC made clear it wanted all Block V boats to include the module.
Also at the symposium, director of undersea warfare (OPNAV N97) Rear Adm. Charles Richard explained the importance of the attack subs and VPM to support the Navy’s sea control mission. Even with building two boats a year, the Navy will face a structural shortfall in the attack sub fleet going forward, he said, and to minimize that shortfall the Navy must “make sure that [VPM program] maintains course and speed, see if there’s anything else we could do to further close that gap in strike capacity.”
Though he stopped short of endorsing building all Block V subs with VPM, Richard said Navy and industry should look at “what are the limits? What else can we do to go address that shortfall? What is the maximum ability of our industrial base? Are there additional resources that could be made available?”