The Block V Virginia Payload Modules, or VPM, will add a new “module” or section of the submarine, increasing its Tomahawk missile firing capability from 12 to 40.
The idea is to have additional Tomahawk or other missile capability increased by 2026, when the “SSGN” Ohio-Class Guided Missile Submarines start retiring in larger numbers, he explained.
Navy engineers have been working on requirements and early designs for a new, 70-foot module for the Virginia-class submarines engineered to house an additional 28 Tomahawk missiles.
While designed primarily to hold Tomahawks, the VPM missile tubes are engineered such that they could accommodate a new payload, new missile or even a large unmanned underwater vehicle, Navy officials said.
The reason for the Virginia Payload Modules is clear; beginning in the 2020s, the Navy will start retiring four large Ohio-class guided-missile submarines able to fire up to 154 Tomahawk missiles each. This will result in the Navy losing a massive amount of undersea fire power capability, Goggins explained.
From 2002 to 2008 the U.S. Navy modified four of its oldest nuclear-armed Ohio-class submarines by turning them into ships armed with only conventional missiles -- the USS Ohio, USS Michigan, USS Florida and USS Georgia. They are called SSGNs, with the “G” designation for “guided missile.”
“When the SSGNs retire in the 2020s – if no action is taken the Navy will lose about 60-percent of its undersea strike launchers. When we design and build VPM and start construction in 2019, that 60-percent shortfall will become a 40-percent shortfall in the 2028 timeframe. Over time as you build VPM you will eliminate the loss of firepower. The rationale for accelerating VPM is to potentially mitigate that 40-percent to a lower number,” Goggins explained.
Shipbuilders currently working on Block III boats at Newport News Shipyard, Va., say Block V will involve a substantial addition to the subs.
Block V will take another cylindrical section and insert it in the middle of the submarine so it will actually lengthen the submarine a little and provide some additional payload capability, Huntington Ingalls Industries executives said several years ago.
The first Block V submarine is slated to begin construction in fiscal year 2019, Navy officials said.
Early prototyping work on the Virginia Payload Modules is already underway and several senior Navy leaders, over the years, have indicated a desire to accelerate production and delivery of this technology – which will massively increase fire-power on the submarines.
Virginia-Class Acquisition Success:
The official baseline for production of Virginia-Class submarines calls for construction of 30 boats, Navy spokeswoman Collen O’Rourke told Scout Warrior. However, over the years, many Navy officials have said this number could very well increase, given the pace of construction called for by the Navy’s official 30-Year Shipbuilding Plan.
The submarines are being built under a Dec. 22, 2008, the Navy awarded a contract for eight Virginia Class submarines. The third contract for the Virginia Class, or Block III, covering hulls numbered 784 through 791 -- is a $14 billion Multi-Year Procurement, Navy officials said.
Multi-year deals are designed to decrease cost and production time by, in part, allowing industry to shore up supplies in advance and stabilize production activities over a number of years.
The first several Block IV Virginia-Class submarines are under construction as well -- the USS Vermont and the USS Oregon. The Navy awarded General Dynamics' Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding a $17.6 billion deal to build 10 Block IV subs with the final boat procured in 2023.
Also, design changes to the ship, including a change in the materials used for the submarines' propulsor, will enable Block IV boats to serve for as long as 96-months between depots visits or scheduled maintenance availabilities, service and industry officials have said.
As a result, the operations and maintenance costs of Block IV Virginia-Class submarines will be much lower and the ships will be able to complete an additional deployment throughout their service live. This will bring the number of operational deployments for Virginia-class submarines from 14 up to 15, Navy submarine programmers have explained.
Overall, the Virginia-Class Submarine effort has made substantive progress in reducing construction time, lowering costs, and delivering boats ahead of schedule, Goggins said.
At least six Virginia Class Submarines have been delivered ahead of schedule, Navy officials said.
The program’s current two-boats per year production schedule, for $4 billion dollars, can be traced back to a 2005 challenge issued by then Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen. As mentioned, deliberations are already underway to consider stepping up this production schedule.
Mullen challenged the program to reduce production costs by 20-percent, saying that would allow the Navy to build two VCS-per year. This amounted to lowering the per-boat price of the submarines by as much as $400 million dollars each.
This was accomplished through a number of efforts, including an effort called “capital” investments wherein the Navy partnered with industry to invest in ship-building methods and technologies aimed at lowering production costs.
Other cost-reducing factors were multi-year contract awards, efforts to streamline production and work to reduce operations and sustainment, or O&S costs, Navy officials explained.
The U.S. Navy is working to adjust the documentation paperwork regarding the size of its fleet of Virginia Class Submarines, changing the ultimate fleet size from 30 to about 51 ships, service officials have said.
Kris Osborn became the Managing Editor of Scout Warrior in August of 2015. His role with Scout.com includes managing content on the Scout Warrior site and generating independently sourced original material. Scout Warrior is aimed at providing engaging, substantial military-specific content covering a range of key areas such as weapons, emerging or next-generation technologies and issues of relevance to the military. Just prior to coming to Scout Warrior, Osborn served as an Associate Editor at the Military.com. This story originally appeared in Scout Warrior.