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Report to Congress on Virginia-Class Attack Submarine Program

The following is the June 29, 2017 Congressional Research Service report, Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report:

The Navy has been procuring Virginia (SSN-774) class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) since FY1998. The two Virginia-class boats that the Navy has requested for procurement in FY2019 would be the 29th and 30th boats in the class, and the first two to be covered under a multiyear procurement (MYP) contract for at least 10 Virginia-class submarines to be procured in FY2019-FY2023.

The Navy estimates the combined procurement cost of the two Virginia-class boats requested for procurement in FY2019 at $6,502.3 million (i.e., about $6.5 billion). The second of these two boats is to be the first Virginia-class boat built with the Virginia Payload Module (VPM), an additional, 84-foot-long, midbody section equipped with four large-diameter, vertical launch tubes for storing and launching additional Tomahawk missiles or other payloads. The Navy plans to build all Virginia-class boats procured in FY2020 and subsequent years with the VPM, and the Navy’s FY2019 budget submission shows that VPM-equipped Virginia-class boats in FY2020 and beyond have an estimated recurring unit procurement cost of about $3.2 billion in today’s dollars.

The two boats requested for procurement in FY2019 have received an estimated total of $2,128.9 million in prior-year “regular” advance procurement (AP) funding. (This figure is an estimate, because Congress has not yet completed action on the FY2018 Department of Defense appropriations act.) Based on this estimate, the Navy’s proposed FY2019 budget requests the remaining $4,373.4 million in procurement funding needed to complete the boats’ estimated combined procurement cost. The Navy’s proposed FY2019 budget also requests $1,810.9 million in “regular” AP funding for Virginia-class boats to be procured in future fiscal years, and $985.5 million in additional Economic Order Quantity (EOQ) AP funding for components of Virginia-class boats to be procured under the FY2019-FY2023 Virginia-class MYP contract, bringing the total amount of procurement, “regular” AP, and EOQ AP funding requested for the program in FY2019 to $7,169.8 million (i.e., about $7.2 billion), excluding outfitting and postdelivery costs

The Navy’s force-level goal, released in December 2016, is to achieve and maintain a 355-ship fleet, including 66 SSNs. To increase the size of the SSN force toward the 66-boat goal, the FY2019 30-year shipbuilding plan includes 16 more SSNs than the Navy’s previous (FY2017) 30-year shipbuilding plan. The first of the 16 additional SSNs is a second Virginia-class boat in FY2021. Under the Navy’s FY2019 30-year shipbuilding plan, a 66-boat SSN force would be achieved in FY2048. CRS and CBO estimated in 2017 that adding even more SSNs to the earlier years of the 30-year shipbuilding plan could accelerate the attainment of a 66-boat force to as early as 2037. The Navy’s FY2019 30-year shipbuilding plan shows options for adding another 12 SSNs to the 30-year plan, but only 3 of the 12 occur in the earlier years of the plan.

From the mid-2020s through the early 2030s, the number of SSNs is projected to experience a valley or trough, reaching a minimum of 42 boats (i.e., 24 boats, or about 36%, less than the 66-boat force-level goal) in FY2028. This projected valley is a consequence of having procured a relatively small number of SSNs during the 1990s, in the early years of the post-Cold War era. Some observers are concerned that this projected valley could lead to a period of heightened operational strain for the SSN force, and perhaps a period of weakened conventional deterrence against potential adversaries such as China. The projected SSN valley was first identified by CRS in 1995 and has been discussed in CRS reports and testimony every year since then. As one measure for mitigating this valley, the Navy’s FY2019 budget submission proposes to refuel and extend the service life of one older Los Angeles (SSN-688) class submarine. The Navy states that this could become the first of as many as five Los Angeles-class SSNs to be refueled and have their service lives extended.

via fas.org

  • NavySubNuke

    We are about 3 years late on adding the VPM to Virginia but at least we will have some enhanced strike and SOF capability out there when the SSGNs are retired without replacement.
    I just hope Newport News and EB are both up to the challenge of integrating the VPM. Such a modification – even to an established design – is non-trivial and hasn’t been done since Jimmy Carter’s “oceanographic research” module was installed over a decade ago.
    Best of luck to all the yard workers and the the initial pre-commissioning crews of all of these ships — the Navy needs these on time!

    • Ser Arthur Dayne

      I agree 100% — I have a suspicion that there is something about the VPM we don’t know because it seems like it’s taking a ton of time to finalize the “design” … and for years I was saying it should be put into the Block IV boats, or at least as many of the Block IV boats they could possibly put it into …. then I saw an interview, and read a report, where they were describing how little work they actually had done on the VPM despite the fact they already decided to do it, go ahead and budget it, plan for it, etc. — It seems to me that it’s kind of like when they decided to add VLS to the 688-class. They realized it was a total positive, no-real-negative, and added them to every subsequent boat… then the 688i was a fairly major upgraded ‘redesign’ … I would think they would want as many VPMs as possible, especially since the Ohio-class SSGN has been nothing but extremely successful and have become one of our most versatile, dangerous, and useful platforms. And if they DO know what they’re doing, it should have been no problem to say, “Ok we have Block IV boat plans, we’re going to be inserting VPMs into them [or most of them, some might be too far along, but I don’t think so] and we’re greatly increasing but the sub’s capability and our actual overall capability.” ….Anyway, this could be alleviated by making some Columbia-class SSGNs in addition to Columbia-class SSBNs, I just doubt they’ll listen to me and do it.

      • NavySubNuke

        A lot here to unpack but I’ll just say the choice to add VPM came too late for the Block IV — one of the major commandants of VPM was to not screw up overall Virginia production. We had to get the Block IV design done on time to support the multi-year procurement and it had to be 2 boats per year.
        Having SSNs with no-VPM was better than having no SSNs at all which is likely where the Navy would have been if they tried to rush VPM. Once that determination was made the level of effort on VPM did drop because now there was more time to get it right. There were also some other challenges – remember Virginia has a life of ship core — how do you make sure a ship with a fixed core life can still have a meaningful life if it is suddenly bigger? That is just one example….
        There will be NO Columbia SSGNs until we are done producing Columbia SSBNs — that is another commandment so sacred you could write it in stone. When the Obama administration delayed Columbia by two years they brought us down to the absolute minimum SSBN force structure. Each Columbia now has to arrive EXACTLY on time (or early of course) as a result. There is literally no margin left.
        Now, the 30 year ship building plan does have the Navy keeping the large diameter submarine production line open beyond Columbia and building SSGNs —- but it remains to be seen if the Nation has the will to buy those boats.

        • Ser Arthur Dayne

          Thank you very much, that is outstanding info and very much appreciated. As always your posts are great to read, thank you very much sir

  • Duane

    The Navy’s plan to build these Block V boats with VPM is fine. But these boats are pretty expensive at $3.25B each.

    The Navy should also consider additionally designing and building a smaller, cheaper SSN focused solely on the longstanding roles of SSNs – ASW and ISR – in a much shorter hull, with greater maneuverability, and a smaller crew, yet incorporating all of the technological advances of both the Virginia and Columbia boats.

    A 5,000 ton roughly 300 foot long SSN with new tech would be a superior hunter-killer, and would cost roughly 2/3 that of a Block V Virginia. We could therefore afford to build additional SSNs sooner to alleviate the gap between projected and needed SSNs.

    Not every SSN needs to be a jack of all trades.

    • I’m not saying you’re entirely wrong – but you do realize how funny this sounds given that Virginia is already the cheaper replacement for Seawolf?

      • Duane

        It is not humorous. The issue is not that Virginia SSNs are “too expensive”. The issue is that Virginia SSNs are too expensive to meet the well known gap between number of SSNs needed, as specified by the US Navy, and THE NUMBER OF SSNs WE CAN AFFORD TO BUILD AND OPERATE.

        We are not going to magically print tens of billions of non-existent dollars. So to get more SSNs will necessarily entail a more econimical SSN which is absolutely feasible and practical. The reason why Virginia boats are relatively expensive is easy to see: the Navy has added land attack capability to a sub that otherwise needs only to do well as ISR and ASW. Adding that capability over the various iterations of the Virginia class adds thousands of tons which is what drives the overall cost.

        We may also have to substitute SSNs for Arleigh Burke BMD ships in order to pay for what we need. CNO has already stated that the Navy should give up the land BMD defense role in favor of vastly cheaper AEGIS Ashore installations. At any givrn moment 6 AEGIS ships are on perpetual land BMD patrol, and because it takes 3 ships to field a single ship on patrol, accounting for maintenance availabilies, shakedowns, crew training and such, we have 18 of our best AMD ships dedicated to non-naval roles.

        • Rocco

          You sound like Trump when he backpedals

      • NavySubNuke

        Exactly – the Navy took out all the bells and whistles when they down sized to Seawolf. The only part of the design held sacred was the sound silencing.
        Just about everything else about a Virginia is already less capable than Seawolf (except the VLS/VPTs depending on block and the lock-out chamber for SOF).
        It is rather humorous that Duane thinks we have 77 feet and 3000 tons of each virginia dedicated to land attack but he couldn’t be farther than the truth.

    • DaSaint

      I’m going to echo ARCNA442 here also. You’re not entirely wrong, but to start from scratch and have EB and/or NNS design a new hunter-killer only SSN would take 10 years. Then the question is how to interrupt or distribute production of the flow of Virginia VPM-class SSNs with this new SSNX.

      The Navy has determined that they need the modularity and flexibility of the VPM. One can argue about the number of cells but it’s clear they’re intentionally straying from non-VPM submarines. The cost of a non-VPM SSN vs. a VPM-equipped submarine does not seem that ‘significant’, and I would hope that they’ve modeled the maneuverability and acoustic stealth of the traditional Virginia class vs the Virginia VPMs and are satisfied.

      Not that WE should be happy with or entirely confident about USN decision-making, as we’ve all seen how that’s worked out in several surface warfare class procurements (not naming any right now DUANE) and some aviation procurements as well.

      • Duane

        Yes it takes years to develop a new design ship, but my proposal is to outfit the new shorter SSN with existing tech as already developed and deployed for the Block III Virginias and Colombia SSBNs. Keep the same hull section as the Virginias, but cut the hull length by eliminating the vertical launch tubes and other gear and space needed to support the land attack capability. Even retain the same reactor. So we ought to be able to produce such a design relatively quickly, say 5-6 years. And that is plenty of time to address a shortfall that begins in the late 2020s and is projected to last through the late 2040s and, depending upon funds availability, may end up being a permanent gap.

        • Sir Bateman

          Interesting proposition. What would your procurement plan look like? If I’m not mistaken isn’t the current sub procurement rate roughly 2 Virginia SSNs & 1 Columbia SSBN per year?

          Would yours be 1 Virginia SSN, 1 or 2 shorter SSNs & 1 Columbia SSBN per year?

          Does EB & NNS have the capacity to build subs at a rate quicker than currently planned, even if some proportion of said subs are smaller than the Virginia and Columbia class subs?

          • Rocco

            Great question

        • NavySubNuke

          Duane: “A 5,000 ton roughly 300 foot long SSN”
          Also Duane: “Keep the same hull section as the Virginias, but cut the hull length by eliminating the vertical launch tubes and other gear and space needed to support the land attack capability”
          Duane – which of these two things do you want?
          Because as anyone who has ever even stepped foot on a Virginia class SSN will tell you cutting out the VPTs in the bow and the “other gear and space needed to support the land attack capability” will not save you 77 feet and nearly 3,000 tons.

    • NavySubNuke

      “A 5,000 ton roughly 300 foot long SSN with new tech would be a superior hunter-killer, and would cost roughly 2/3 that of a Block V Virginia”
      I’d love to hear the basis for that cost estimate.
      Also, how exactly are you going to cut out 77ft and nearly 3000 tons from the Virginia class? Cutting the VPTs saves you about 8 – 10 feet tops.

  • Richard Johnson

    The report was released June 29, 2018 not June 29, 2017 as it states in the body of the article.