The Silent Predators: US Navy Orders $22.2 Billion Worth of Advanced Virginia-class Submarines

WASHINGTON – The US Navy on Monday awarded its most expensive shipbuilding contract ever, more than $22.2 billion worth of the world’s most advanced Virginia-Class Block V submarines.

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The Naval Sea Systems Command awarded a nine-ship — eight with Virginia Payload Module (VPM) — Block V contract to General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB) Dec. 2. The contract includes an option for one additional submarine with VPM. 

Virginia-class submarines are built to dominate the world’s littoral and deep waters while conducting anti-submarine warfare; anti-surface-ship warfare; strike warfare; special operations forces support; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; irregular warfare and mine warfare missions. Their inherent stealth, endurance, mobility and firepower directly enable them to support five of the six maritime strategy core capabilities: sea control, power projection, forward presence, maritime security and deterrence.

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The massive contract for nine nuclear-powered, Virginia class attack submarines comes just months after the head of the US Navy in the Pacific warned of a massive Chinese naval buildup and his trouble in getting enough submarines to counter it.The deal “marks the US Navy’s latest response to China’s growing military power and aggressive actions tin the Western Pacific,” said Carl Schuster, a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.

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Eighteen of the subs are already in the Navy’s fleet with another 10 in various stages of construction.But the nine new subs will represent a substantial upgrade over their predecessors in the class. The Navy also has an option for a 10th sub in the contract, which would bring its value to $24 billion.

‘A generational leap’ in capability

“Block V Virginias and Virginia Payload Module are a generational leap in submarine capability for the Navy,” said Program Executive Officer for Submarines Rear Adm. David Goggins. “These design changes will enable the fleet to maintain our nation’s undersea dominance.”

The Block V contract continues the Virginia class’s teaming arrangement between prime contractor GDEB in Groton, Connecticut, and the major subcontractor, Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding division (HII-NNS) in Newport News, Virginia.

The Virginia-class submarines are equipped with with 12 Vertical Launch System (VLS) tubes for firing Tomahawk BGM-109 cruise missiles and 65 Mk 48 ADCAP torpedoes, four torpedo tubes.

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The Block V submarines will incorporate acoustic superiority design changes to maintain undersea dominance on all Block V hulls and the VPM, with four large payload tubes in a new hull section on eight submarines, increasing Tomahawk strike capacity from 12 to 40 missiles per boat to maintain undersea strike capacity with the expected retirement of the Navy’s four guided-missile submarines and providing future payload flexibility.

The Block V submarines will be bigger, displacing 10,200 tons compared to 7,800 on the current subs; they’ll be longer, 460 feet compared to 377 feet; and they’ll have substantial more firepower, with the ability to launch strikes with 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles, compared to just 12 on the current ships.

The naval balance in the Pacific

Experts say the US is facing unprecedented pressure in the Pacific, largely from a Chinese navy that has been making huge leaps in the numbers and quality of its submarine fleet.The May 2019 China Military Power Report from the US Defense Department said the People’s Liberation Army Navy will field 65 to 70 submarines by 2020.

The subs, which can generate their own water and oxygen, can stay submerged for months at a time.”Our submarine force is fundamental to the power and reach of our integrated naval force,” said acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly. “Today’s announcement affirms our commitment to the future strength of our nation, undersea and around the world.”US Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, hailed the new contract.”These next generation submarines provide our forces with a distinct national security advantage. They are an unmatched tool for deterrence,” Reed said in a statement.

The submarines will be built by prime contractor General Dynamics Electric Boat, based in Groton, Connecticut, with subcontractor Huntington Ingallls Industries. Sen. Reed said the contract would ensure a stable workload for the 4,000 workers at an Electric Boat shipyard in Rhode Island for years to come. While the nine new subs will be additions to the fleet — the first of the Virginia class was delivered in 2004 — they will be needed to replace some of the Navy’s aging Los Angeles-class attack subs, which first entered the fleet in the 1970s.The new submarines are scheduled for delivery between 2025 and 2029, the Navy said.

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