The arrival of the USS Oregon, recently commissioned in New London, Connecticut, is a welcome development for Navy ship developers, who have in recent years expressed concern about a coming submarine “shortfall” as legacy platforms retire. For many years, the hope among many Navy leaders and lawmakers has been to accelerate the production of the Virginia class to ensure that the existing fleet can meet growing requests from commanders in high-threat areas of the world.
The Navy has been studying the U.S. industrial base capacity and working with Congress to explore the option of building three new Virginia-class submarines per year, or at least maintaining a pace of two per year once Columbia-class submarines start arriving.
A Navy report on the commissioning says the Oregon is 377 feet long, has a 34-foot beam, and is able to dive to depths greater than 800 feet and operate at speeds in excess of twenty-five knots. The submarine has a crew of nearly 140 Navy personnel.
Block IV Virginia-class submarines are an interesting bridge between the massively upgraded Block III submarines and the emerging Block V Virginia Payload Modules submarines. Block V Virginia-class submarines will add a section to increase their Tomahawk missile firing capacity from twelve missiles up to as many as forty. It is a massive increase in firepower, generated in part by the expected retirement of four Ohio-class guided-missile submarines (SSGN). Each of these Ohio-class submarines can carry as many as 154 Tomahawks, so their departure will greatly reduce the ability of the U.S. Navy to launch large-scale submarine attacks in the event of major conflict.
As a Block IV ship, the Oregon likely incorporates many of the innovations built into Block III, which include computerized “fly-by-wire” navigational controls, fiber optic cables for periscope viewing, and an improved Large Aperture Bow sonar.
Virginia-class submarines would also be critical for delivering special operations forces into hostile areas for clandestine missions. Such missions could include hostage rescue, maritime ambushes, or simple scouting and reconnaissance missions. To support this mission, Virginia-class Block III submarines have lock-out trunks, which fill up with water from which special operations forces can stealthily exit.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.
Image: Flickr/U.S. Navy.