The US Navy has awarded a $22bn contract to General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB) and its partner Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding division (HII-NNS) for the construction of nine new Block V Virginia-class submarines.

The multi-year procurement contract covers the period from 2019 to 2023. It is said to be the largest ever shipbuilding contract awarded by the US Navy.

GDEB is the prime contractor for the Block V Virginia-class programme. The company is building the submarines under a teaming agreement with subcontractor HII-NNS.

The contract requires Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding to deliver eight of the ships fitted with the Virginia Payload Module (VPM), which will enable a three-fold increase in the missile strike capacity of the Virginia-class ships.

The VPM provides increased payload space through the addition of a mid-body section.

It will add four large payload tubes, with each capable of carrying and launching seven Tomahawk missiles.

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The contract also includes an option for a tenth Block V submarine with VPM. If the US Navy exercises the option, the total value of the contract could increase by an additional $2bn.

General Dynamics Electric Boat president Kevin Graney said: “This contract allows for our shipbuilding team, our suppliers and our employees to plan ahead so that we can continue to deliver submarines of unmatched quality, stealth and lethality.

“Increasing the cadence of our production from one per year to two, coupled with the start of full production of the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, represents a generational increase in submarine production for our nation.”

GDEB and Newport News have so far delivered 18 boats of the Virginia-class to the US Navy.

The companies are currently building ten Block IV variants of the submarine for the navy and will undertake deliveries of the Block V boats between 2025 and 2029.

US Navy Submarines programme executive officer rear admiral David Goggins said: “Block V Virginias and Virginia Payload Module are a generational leap in submarine capability for the navy. These design changes will enable the fleet to maintain our nation’s undersea dominance.”

The navy is buying fewer Block V boats than the 11 originally planned.