The Virginia-Class new attack submarine is an advanced stealth multimission nuclear-powered submarine for deep ocean anti-submarine warfare and littoral (shallow water) operations.
Although the Seawolf submarine was developed to provide an eventual replacement for the US Navy Los Angeles-Class submarines in combating the Soviet forces, the prohibitive unit cost and changing strategic requirements led to the US Navy defining a smaller new-generation attack submarine. Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) Nuclear Operations won a contract for the assembly of nuclear propulsion components for Virginia-Class submarine in February 2013.
The US Navy awarded several modification contracts to General Dynamics Electric Boat over the years in support of the Virginia-Class attack submarine programme. The company was awarded $9m in funds to support the continued development of the Virginia Payload Module (VPM). In December 2017 and December 2018, the company received contract modifications, totalling $778m, for research and development and lead-yard services to improve the design and study technologies for integration into the submarine.
The Virginia-Class submarines are being built by a partnership between Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding division and General Dynamics Electric Boat. General Dynamics Electric Boat built the first of the class – Virginia (SSN 774), and Northrop Grumman Newport News the second – Texas (SSN 775).
The subsequent vessels are Hawaii (SSN 776), New Hampshire (SSN 778), Missouri (SSN 780), Mississippi (SSN 782) and John Warner (SSN 785) being built by Electric Boat, with North Carolina (SSN 777), New Mexico (SSN 779), California (SSN 781), Minnesota (SSN 783) and North Dakota (SSN 784) being built by Newport News.
The US Navy placed a bulk-buy contract for the first five ships, and in January 2004, placed a multiyear contract for the following five. In December 2008, the navy signed a $14bn contract with General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman for eight additional submarines. Another $17.6bn contract was signed in April 2014 for an additional ten submarines, bringing the total order volume to 28. General Dynamics Electric Boat plans to begin construction on two submarines a year over a five-year period and conclude the deliveries by 2023.
In December 2019, Newport News and Electric Boat received a $22bn contract to build nine Block V submarines. The navy is expected to receive the deliveries of the nine Virginia-Class Block V submarines from 2025 through 2029. Eight of the submarines will be equipped with VPM, which will enable significantly increased missile strike capacity. The Block V submarines will have increased length and displacement.
Virginia was laid down in September 1999, launched in August 2003 and commissioned in October 2004. It underwent a three-year operational evaluation before operational deployment. Texas was launched in April 2005, delivered in June 2006 and commissioned in September 2006. The keel for Hawaii was laid in August 2004, it was launched in June 2006 and commissioned in May 2007.
North Carolina was launched in May 2007, delivered in December 2007 and commissioned in May 2008. New Hampshire was launched in February 2008 and commissioned in October 2008. The keel for New Mexico was laid in April 2008. It was launched in December 2008 and commissioned in March 2010.
The construction of Missouri (SSN 780) began in December 2004. The keel was laid in September 2008, the submarine was launched in November 2009 and commissioned in July 2010. The keel for California (SSN-781) was laid in May 2010 and delivery was made in August 2011.
General Dynamics Electric Boat delivered the nuclear-powered Virginia-Class attack submarine Mississippi (SSN-782) to the US Navy in May 2012.
Minnesota (SSN 783) was launched at Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) in November 2012 and delivered in June 2013.
North Dakota (SSN 784) was christened in November 2013 and was commissioned in October 2014. The keel for SSN 785 was laid in March 2013 and the submarine was christened John Warner in September 2014.
The construction of SSN 786 began in March 2011 at General Dynamics Electric Boat and was named Illinois in June 2012. The submarine is expected to be commissioned in December 2015. The US Navy then decided to build two Virginia-Class submarines a year. Accordingly, $1.2bn was released to General Dynamics in April 2011 to construct the 14th Virginia-Class submarine USS Washington (SSN-787). The construction began in September 2011 and the keel was laid in November 2014.
The construction of Colorado SSN 788 and Indiana SSN 789 began in March 2012 and September 2012 respectively.
In January 2013, General Dynamics Electric Boat received a $2.5bn contract for the construction of South Dakota (SSN 790) and Delaware (SSN 791) submarines. The next two submarines, SSN 792 and SSN 793 were named Vermont and Oregon in September and October 2014 respectively.
SSN 795 was christened as Hyman G Rickover in January 2015. The navy commissioned six ships between 2017 and 2020, including Washington, Colorado, Indiana, South Dakota, Delaware and Vermont. USS Vermont (SSN 792), the 19th Virginia-Class fast-attack submarine, and USS Delaware entered service in April 2020.
Design of NSSN Virginia-Class submarines
The engineering teams and design and build teams at Electric Boat in partnership with the Naval Sea Systems Command, NAVSEA, of the US Navy used extensive CAD / CAE simulation systems to optimise the design of the submarine.
The hull is 377ft long with a beam of 34ft and the displacement of 7,300t dived, which is smaller than the more expensive Seawolf attack submarine with a displacement of 9,137t dived.
The hull structure contains structurally integrated enclosures, which accommodate standard 19in and 24in width equipment for ease of installation, repair and upgrade of the submarine’s systems.
The submarine is fitted with modular isolated deck structures, for example, the submarine’s command centre will be installed as one single unit, resting on cushioned mounting points. The submarine’s control suite is equipped with computer touch screens.
The submarine’s steering and diving are controlled via a four-button, two-axis joystick.
The noise level of Virginia is equal to that of the US Navy Seawolf, SSN 21, with a lower acoustic signature than the Russian Improved Akula-Class and fourth-generation attack submarines. To achieve the low acoustic signature, Virginia incorporates newly designed anechoic coatings, isolated deck structures and a new design of propulsor.
Goodrich is supplying high-frequency sail array acoustic windows and composite sonar domes.
The command and control systems module (CCSM) was developed by a team led by Lockheed Martin Naval Electronics & Surveillance Systems – Undersea Systems (NE&SS-US) of Manassas, Virginia, US. It will integrate all of the vessel’s systems – sensors, countermeasure technology, navigation and weapon control and will be based on open system architecture (OSA) with Q-70 colour common display consoles.
Weapon control is provided by Raytheon with a derivative of the CCS mk2 combat system, the AN/BYG-1 combat control system, which was fitted to the Australian Collins-Class submarines.
Virginia has two mast-mounted Raytheon submarine high data rate (sub HDR) multiband satellite communications systems that enable simultaneous communication at a super-high frequency (SHF) and extremely high frequency (EHF).
The Virginia-Class attack submarine is equipped with 12 vertical missile launch tubes and four 533mm torpedo tubes. The vertical launching system has the capacity to launch 16 Tomahawk submarine-launched cruise missiles (SLCM) in a single salvo. There is a capacity for up to 26 mk48 ADCAP mod 6 heavyweight torpedoes and sub harpoon anti-ship missiles to be fired from the 21in torpedo tubes. Mk60 CAPTOR mines may also be fitted.
An integral lock-out / lock-in chamber is incorporated into the hull for special operations. The chamber can host a mini-submarine such as Northrop Grumman’s Oceanic and Naval Systems advanced SEAL delivery system (ASDS) to deliver special warfare forces such as navy sea air land (SEAL) teams or marine reconnaissance units for counter-terrorism or localised conflict operations.
Virginia is fitted with the AN/WLY-1 acoustic countermeasures system developed by Northrop Grumman, which provides range and bearing data, along with the mast-mounted AN/BLQ-10 electronic support measures (ESM) system from Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems.
AN/BLQ-10 provides full-spectrum radar processing, automatic threat warning and situation assessment.
The Virginia-Class sonar suite includes a bow-mounted active and passive array, wide aperture passive array on the flank, high-frequency active arrays on keel and fin, TB 16 towed array and the Lockheed Martin TB-29A thin line towed array with the AN/BQQ-10(V4) sonar processing system. A Sperry Marine AN/BPS-16(V)4 navigation radar, operating at I-band, is fitted.
The submarines have two Kollmorgen AN/BVS-1 photonic masts, rather than optical periscopes. Sensors mounted on the non-hull-penetrating photonic mast include LLTV (low-light TV), thermal imager and laser rangefinder. The mast is the Universal Modular Mast developed by Kollmorgen and its Italian subsidiary, Calzoni.
The Boeing LMRS long-term mine reconnaissance system will be deployed on the Virginia Class. LMRS includes two 6m autonomous unmanned underwater vehicles and 18m robotic recovery arm and support electronics.
Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems supplies the lightweight, wide-aperture array (LWWAA) system based on fibre-optic arrays, instead of traditional ceramic hydrophone sensors.
LWWAA is a passive ASW sonar system, which consists of three large array panels mounted on either side of the submarine’s hull. Lockheed Martin provided acoustic rapid commercial-off-the-shelf insertion (A-RCI) hardware for the sonar system upgrade. The $25.1m contract was awarded in August 2009 and deliveries were completed in 2012.
In January 2011, an $84m contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin for submarine sonar upgrades.
Northrop Grumman designed and delivered a new hull-mounted acoustic Advanced Flank Array (AFA) for the Virginia-Class submarine, investing more than $3m. The system underwent testing in November 2017 and demonstrated its capability to address next-generation flank array requirements.
The main propulsion units are the GE pressure water reactor S9G designed to last as long the submarine, two turbine engines with one shaft and a United Defense pump jet propulsor, providing 29.84MW. The speed is over 25k dived.