U.S. Navy Next-Generation Attack Submarines Are on the Horizon
The U.S. Navy expects to shift from procuring Virginia-class submarines to Next Generation Attack Submarines sometime in the 2030s.
A report from the Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan public policy research institute that reports to Congress, recently released a report on the U.S. Navy’s upcoming class of attack submarines, tentatively known as the Next Generation Attack Submarine, or SSN(X), program.
The report details the program’s background and potential issues for Congress to consider.
The report quotes information directly from the Navy, which states that the SSN(X) “will be designed to counter the growing threat posed by near-peer adversary competition for undersea supremacy. It will provide greater speed, increased horizontal payload capacity, improved acoustic superiority, and higher operational availability. SSN(X) will conduct full spectrum undersea warfare and be able to coordinate with a larger contingent of off-hull vehicles, sensors, and friendly forces. It will retain and improve multimission... capability and sustained combat presence in denied waters.”
Navy officials “have stated that the Navy wants the SSN(X) to be an "'apex predator,'" the report said. “More specifically, they have stated that the Navy wants the SSN(X) to incorporate the speed and payload the Navy’s fast and heavily armed Seawolf (SSN-21) class SSN design, the acoustic quietness and sensors of the Virginia-class design, and the operational availability and service life of the Columbia-class design,” the report continued.
The stringent requirements will likely lead the Next Generation Attack Submarine to have a larger displacement than previous American attack submarines, as the design would incorporate more technologies and be capable of more than past attack submarine designs.
The Navy currently operates three classes of submarines: nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, nuclear-powered cruise missile and special operations forces submarines, and nuclear-powered attack submarines.
The current class of attack submarines is represented by the Virginia-class submarines and the very small, three-hull Seawolf-class. Though the Virginia-class attack submarines are by no means ancient—the oldest of the class is twenty-four years old, and new Virginia-class submarines are built every year—the upcoming attack submarines will be significantly more advanced than their predecessor.
One of the advancements that could be incorporated into the design is a new kind of propulsor, trading the traditional shaft and propeller design for something that features fewer moving parts and is quieter. It is possible that the latest Next Generation Attack Submarines could remain in service until the end of the century and potentially into the following century, too. The U.S. Navy expects to shift from procuring Virginia-class submarines to Next Generation Attack Submarines sometime in the 2030s.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson.
Image: Flickr/U.S. Navy.