Virginia-Class Block I: The U.S. Navy Submarine That Is a True Game Changer

Virginia-Class Block II Submarine
January 25, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: Virginia-classVirginia-Class SubmarineSubmarineU.S. NavyNavy

Virginia-Class Block I: The U.S. Navy Submarine That Is a True Game Changer

Weapons-wise, the Virginia-Class Block I submarine variants are armed to the teeth. Each submarine in this class is fitted with 12 vertical missile launch tubes and four 533mm torpedo tubes.


Virginia Block I-class submarine: The Ultimate Guide - Over its decades in service, the U.S. Navy’s Virginia-class submarines have proven to be a versatile and reliable design with room for growth.

The latest class of nuclear-powered cruise missile fast attack submarines to sail for the service were designed by General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries to operate in a wide array of open-ocean and littoral missions.


From anti-submarine warfare to intelligence-gathering operations, the Virginia submarines can do it all.

And yet, the Block I Virginia-Class is where this submarine story begins. 

A brief history of the Virginia-class:

The Virginia-class was derived from the 1991 “Centurion Study.” Initially, these ships were conceptualized as a cheaper alternative to the Seawolf-class submarines.

These $3 billion per unit submarines were considered unsustainable, and ultimately, the class was canceled after only three Seawolf vessels were ever built.

The Virginia-class incorporates several innovations that improve its warfighting capabilities. Notably, the Virginia submarines were the first U.S. Navy warships to be constructed using 3D visualization technology as CATIA, which consists of computer-aided design, computer-aided engineering, computer-aided manufacturing and product lifecycle management.

Introducing the Block I Virginia-class submarines:

Prior to the Cold War, the Navy’s submarines were constructed by assembling the pressure hull and later installing the equipment via the pressure hull. The Virginia-class ships were uniquely built using modular construction techniques.

In terms of sensors, the submarines in this series possess fly-by-wire ship control systems that enable improved shallow-water ship handling. Additionally, this class features conformal alternatives to the existing spherical sonar array and externally stowed and launched weapons. A GE pressure water reactor S9G and two turbine engines function as the Virginia-class submarine’s primary propulsion units.

The Virginia-class submarines are equipped with a common mast design, the Universal Modular Mast (UMM) designed by L3 KEO. Instead of using a traditional periscope that its predecessors featured, the Virginia class is the first to utilize photonic sensors. The class’ other sensor improvements iclude high-resolution camera, light-intensification and infrared sensors and an integrated Electronic Support Measures (ESM) array.

The Block I submarines are also equipped with the AN/WLY-1 acoustic countermeasures system developed by Northrop Grumman in addition to the Lockheed Martin mast-mounted AN/BLQ-10 electronic support measures system.

Weapons-wise, the Block I variants are armed to the teeth. Each submarine in this class is fitted with 12 vertical missile launch tubes and four 533mm torpedo tubes. As detailed by Naval Technology, the VLS is capable of launching 16 Tomahawk submarine-launched cruise missiles simultaneously.

Additionally, there is a capacity for 26 mk48 ADCAP mod 6 heavyweight torpedoes and sub harpoon anti-ship missiles to be launched from the torpedo tubes.

The USS Virginia

USS Virginia (SSN-774) is the lead ship of her class, officially laid down in the late 1990’s and launched in 2003. She was followed by the remaining Block I submarines in her class- USS Texas, USS Hawaii and USS North Carolina.


Out of the 21 Virginia-class submarines in service today, the majority are Block I-III designs. While all of the variants in this class are quite capable, the latest Block V model is especially equipped with cutting-edge components.


About the Author: Maya Carlin 

Maya Carlin, National Security Writer with The National Interest, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin

All images are Creative Commons.