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Navy Finalizing Virginia Payload Module Design, Will Begin Prototyping To Reduce Risk

from Sub League 2015 Drakeley PEO Subs

from Sub League 2015 Drakeley PEO Subs

The Virginia-class submarine program is finalizing the Virginia Payload Module design and will start prototyping soon to reduce risk and cost as much as possible ahead of the 2019 construction start, according to a Navy report to Congress.

According to the “Virginia Class Submarine Cost Containment Strategy for Block V Virginia Payload Module Design” report, dated Aug. 31 but not received by the Senate until mid-October, the Navy says late Fiscal Year 2015 and early FY 2016 is a “critical” time period for the program.

“Since the previous report (in early 2015), the Design Agent (General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB)) finalized the concept design, reviewed and started updating the Integrated Master Schedule (IMS), issued a prototype plan, commenced arrangement activities, and submitted all ship specification requirements and Key Decisions for approval,” the report states.
“In the remainder of FY15 and into FY16 GDEB will recommend a final module length, issue IMS Revision B, update cost estimates, complete payload tube arrangements, and begin prototyping efforts. The Navy will approve all Key Decisions and ship specification changes, commence module and host ship arrangement approvals, start approving design disclosures, and establish the module length.”

The Navy selected a design concept in November 2013 and has, with Electric Boat, been refining that design ever since. This early risk-reduction work proved important in the Virginia-class submarine program, which has minimized requirements and cost creep throughout the 20-year history of the program, and officials are trying to replicate that success in the VPM project, according to the report.

“There have been no changes to the CDD (capability development document) since it was initially approved in December 2013. The CDD sets clear KPPs (key performance parameters) for cost, strike capability, and schedule based on stable requirements,” reads the report.

The VPM project has the advantage of not relying on the development of any new technology to meet Navy requirements, and therefore the design should be at a high level of completion when construction starts, the report notes. That high level of design completion, in addition to minimizing rework and keeping cost and risk low, means the Navy will be able to give GDEB “sufficient time to acquire material, develop and issue work packages, and prepare for construction.”

The design has not been finalized yet, but GDEB has submitted its recommendations for all 39 “key decisions,” and the Navy has approved 16 of them. The service has also tested out the design in a lab setting to ensure it will work well with the Virginia subs and their own set of requirements. The Navy held a VPM Strike Concept of Operations Exercise (COOPEX) in June 2015 at Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Newport to provide feedback early in the systems engineering process “to understand if conceptual configurations efficiently meet future VPM mission requirements.

“COOPEX identified operational impacts of the current concept design and the results will help determine necessary changes or modifications to design, requirements, or Concept of Operations (CONOPS) for more effective system and crew performance in order to meet current KPPs and KSAs (Key System Attributes) and to maintain existing Block III (submarine) manning. “

The Naval Sea Systems Command’s (NAVSEA) engineering directorate will update cost estimates soon based on the final concept design, but so far the program has been successful in sticking to its cost goals. The program had a threshold requirement of $994 million and an objective requirement of $931 million in non-recurring engineering costs, and as of January 2015 the program estimated it would end up spending $936 million. The first VPM module is required to cost $633 million with an objective cost of $567 million, and the most recent estimate puts the lead ship VPM at $563 million. Follow-on VPMs would be required to cost $567 million each with an objective cost of $527 million, and the January estimate puts them at an even lower $508 million.

  • sferrin

    As long as “risk” is a four-letter word we will never get costs down or make real breakthroughs. We can’t even make a supersonic air-breathing missile anymore. Too risky. (I’m looking at LRASM-B. A missile first flown in 1980, but too “risky” now even though the hard stuff was done for them 35 years ago. Back when they were willing to take risks.)

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  • @USS_Fallujah

    All this talk of the “short legs” of the CSG forgets that the strike role of the A-6 was deemed unnecessary because of the advent of LACMs. VPMs on Viriginia Class SSNs means they can fill the LACM being lost when they retire the SSGNs, and actually increase the number of LACMs on deployment (SSGNs are great, but with only 4 of them having them available in a timely manner to regional commanders was always going to be problematic). Using the CSGs escorts and SSNs armed with LACMs provides the same day 1 strike capability that a A-6 range aircraft would (though you do have the issue of a fixed group magazine size, since LACM stocks can’t be re-supplied at sea).
    Unfortunatly given the outrageous pricetag of the CVN it’s a tough sell to say the carrier is the sword and the SSNs & DDGs provide the Bow.

    • sferrin

      Cruise missiles are one-trick ponies. A carrier air wing (even just the strike elements) are much more versatile. Each has their place.

      • @USS_Fallujah

        LACMs give commanders the ability to hit virtually anywhere with almost no risk to his forces. ASBMs sound scary (though I’m highly dubious of any complex system that has never been tested at sea or vs mobile targets), but how well will the kill chain work once the communication nodes, radars and storage facilities start blowing up. Add to that the difficulty of detecting and tracking a ship at sea and you have a very dubious threat.
        IMO PLAN SSKs with good old fashion torpedos are a much bigger threat (though the life expectancy of a sub trying to maneuver into strike position on a carrier group moving at 30 or so knots of fleet speed isn’t going to be very long with 1-2 SSNs lurking nearby plus P-3/8s & SH-60s).

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  • Marjus

    I don’t like the raised module section in the hull. Probably just concept art and not final design. Also all kinds of things can be carried in those tubes, not just missiles in the traditional sense. Could be an air or undersea drone, armed or recon or communications node, who knows, imagination is the limit.

    • StealthFlyer

      The raised section is part of the final design chosen in 2013, as seen in the article quoted above. It was the cheapest option, of course. My question is what is shown on the left and right of the four tubes in the drawing?

      • NavySubNuke

        The left looks like a tank of some kind – probably for depth keeping/compensation as missiles are fired. The right end looks like support equipment for the tubes — heating/cooling, power, etc.

  • NavySubNuke

    Projecting to be on time and under budget —- including under thresholds is brave. Well done to the program office so far — now keep holding EB’s feet to the fire to make sure they deliver!

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