Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate
THIS WEBSITE IS SPONSORED BY PROGENY, A CORPORATE MEMBER OF THE NSL

VIRGINIA: THE SILENT LEADER FOR THE 21 “CENTURY NAVY”

In the name of the United States I christen thee VIRGINIA.” On 16 August 2003, Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of President Lyndon B. Johnson and wife of former U.S. Senator Charles S. Robb, spoke these words and formally named the lead ship of a new and transformational class of submarines for the United States Navy. VIRGINIA (SSN 774) Class submarines will be the quietest, most technologically advanced, most capable submarines ever built. VIRGINIA was designed from the outset to be versatile, at home in the open ocean as well as the littorals. These submarines are the future of the Navy’s underwater force and they will successfully meet and adapt to the new and changing threats of the 21″ century. They will be key elements of the CNO’s Sea Power 21 concept and a primary enablers of ForceNet. Not only will her warfighting capabilities set the standard for the future of Naval warfare, but with her unique design process and procurement strategy, she will set the standard for the future of Naval shipbuilding as well.

LOS ANGELES (SSN 688) Class’s original replacement, SEA WOLF (SSN-21 }-Class, was designed to do everything LOS ANGELES could do, but better. However, despite being the best blue-water Anti-Submarine Warfare submarine in the world, the program was truncated after the authorization of only three SEA WOLFs. The decision to halt the SEA WOLF program afforded the submarine community an opportunity to go back to the drawing board, and design an entirely new class of submarine with the versatility to meet the rapidly changing threats of today’s world and adapt to advances in technology.

Unique Design Process

To design the submarine, the Navy fonned an Integrated Product and Process Development (IPPD) group. This group was comprised of submariners, naval engineers, and industrial partners-almost everyone who would play a part in a VIRGINIA-Class submarine, from design to decommissioning. Engaging all of VIRGINIA ‘s stakeholders from the outset fostered an atmosphere of communication and allowed all members of the group to voice their opinions. Consequently, those involved in VIRGINIA ‘s development have a better understanding of the concerns of the other contributors, the result being that we have been able to provide the U.S. Navy with the best submarine in the world.

The IPPD group worked to determine exactly what capabilities VIRGINIA needed, and decided on the best way to go about providing those capabilities. The new design would be cheaper than SEA WOLF, with capabilities focusing on stealth and the ability to operate in the littorals while performing a wide variety of missions, including Anti-Submarine and Anti-Surface Warfare, Strike, Special Operations, and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance.

VIRGINIA is the first warship designed entirely by computer. State of the art Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) drastically curtailed the use of expensive wooden mock-ups and reduced the number of design changes by over 90% compared to SEA WOLF. The design effort for the lead ship, VIRGINIA, is over 99% complete. The entire Navy is now leveraging the lessons learned during VIRGINIA’s design process.

New Technologies. Increased Adaptability, and Improved Warfiehting Capabilities

The VIRGINIA Class will utilize innovations and revolutionary new technologies that will greatly increase its capabilities over any previous class of submarine. One of these is the Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C31) system. The C31 system is an open, distributed, real-time networked system that integrates formerly stand-alone subsYstems such as sonar, radar, combat control, and navigation. This integrated system makes extensive use of Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) hardware and software, as well as an Open Systems Architecture (OSA). With the OSA approach, the Navy can more readily upgrade its software and processors to meet emergent needs or introduce new technologies as they become available.

The C31 system mostly resides on the Command and Control System Module (CCSM) and was installed and tested at the Command and Control System Module Off-hull Assembly and Test Site (COATS) in Groton, Connecticut. COATS allowed all the non-propulsion electronics systems to be completely tested, and even upgraded, two years prior to this module being end-loaded into the submarine hull. Thanks to COATS, the Command and Control system, for the first time in the history of submarine construction, was not the limiting path in the construction schedule. COATS has also proven useful in operational and developmental testing.

VIRGINIA ‘s Ship Control System will be unlike anything currently in the Navy, with the possible exception of the control system used in modem naval aircraft. VIRGINIA’s designers chose to dispense with hydraulics and yokes in favor of fly-by-wire technologies and touch-screen panels that control depth, speed, course, and angle amongst other commands. Because of these improvements, instead of having three sailors on duty at any one time to drive the .submarine, VIRGINIA will have two-one to control the ship and the other to act as backup. In fact, through technological and design improvements, VIRGINIA will have 27 fewer watchstanders than LOS ANGELES Class submarines dropping from l 05 aboard LOS ANGELES (SSN-688)-Class submarines, to 78.

To help VIRGINIA ‘s crewmembers get up to speed on this new technology, we developed a Ship Control Trainer for VIRGINIA, which was delivered to Groton in September 2002. This full-up trainer, built on gyros to provide a realistic training environment, will prepare our sailors for driving the ship more thoroughly than ever before.

Another major advancement found aboard the VIRGINIA Class is her revolutionary telescoping, non-hu11-penetrating, Photonics mast. The Photonics mast replaces the traditional periscopes with color, high-definition black and white, and infrared cameras that are linked via fiber optic cables to computer workstations in the Control Room. Removal of hull-penetrating periscopes allowed for increased flexibility in VIRGINIA’s design. Since the periscopes no longer link the sail and the Control Room, the placement of both could be optimized. The sail was moved forward for improved hydrodynamics, and the Control room moved aft and down one deck where there was more available space, affording a more utilitarian design. Now, Combat Control, Sonar, Ship Control, and Navigation stations all reside in a single space with multiple large-screen displays allowing the submarine’s Commanding Officer the unprecedented ability to monitor all aspects of the battlespace simultaneously.

Also planned for VIRGINIA, and destined for installation aboard all in-service submarines, is the Common Submarine Radio Room. Utilizing COTS components, the Common Submarine Radio Room will keep our systems at the cutting edge of technology. The Common Submarine Radio Room is also interoperable with the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C41) infrastructure and other communications systems. It not only offers easier upgrades to out-of-date systems, but, once installed aboard all in-service submarines, will also allow sailors to transition from one submarine class to another and still have familiar and up-to-date systems. This standardization effort will help to ensure that every U.S. submarine has the best, most affordable, easily upgradeable, state-of-the-art communications systems-a requirement of Sea Power 21 ‘s ForceNet initiative.

Another of VIRGINIA ‘s key improvements involves the sonar suite, which is optimized for the littoral environment where mine detection and avoidance are crucial. The ship’s Spherical Active/Passive Array, the Lightweight Wide Aperture Array (LWAA), which is optimized for detecting quiet diesel-electric submarines, and the TB-29(A) Thin-Line Towed Array make up the heart of the sonar suite, while a sail and chin-mounted high-frequency active array complete the system. With the addition of the improved processors and software, VIRGINIA has the world’s most capable blue-and littoral-water sonar system.

VIRGINIA will be a primary enabler of ForceNet, a central component of all future naval warfare. It will link our people, platforms, sensors, and weapons together to form a complete tactical picture of the battlespace. It will also permit secure communications between our forces and those of our allies, an essential component in modem naval warfare. Through ForceNet, VIRGINIA will communicate with strike groups, troops ashore, planes in the air, and UUVs and UAVs operating in contested territory. Because they offer a non-provocative, covert forward presence, whether in the littorals or the deep ocean, VIRGINIA-Class submarines will be able to collect and disseminate intelligence to any follow-on forces through the photonics mast and associated ISR systems.

VIRGINIA will have a substantially greater weapons load-out than the LOS ANGELES Class. VIRGINIA can carry 38 weapons vice Improved LOS ANGELES Class’ 34, including heavyweight torpedoes and Tomahawk Land-Attack Missiles (TLAMs). Twelve Vertical Launching System (VLS) tubes and four 21-inch torpedo tubes enable VIRGINIA to launch salvos of up to I 6 missiles. With slight modifications, the VLS will also be able to launch future payloads such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UA Vs) and Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUVs). The torpedo tubes can also double as launch and recovery points for UUVs, such as the Long-term Mine Reconnaissance System (LMRS)-currently scheduled to enter service in 2003 (one year prior to Virginia), or could be used for the deployment of UAVs, if tube-launched versions are developed.

A submarine’s greatest asset has always been its stealth. VIRGINIA will have SEA WOLF’s stealth and be quieter at 25 knots than a LOS ANGELES is pier-side. This not only makes it an ideal Anti-Submarine and Anti-Surface Ship platform, but it also makes the ship attractive to Special Operations Forces (SOF). From the beginning, VIRGINIA was designed to meet SOF needs, especially those of the Navy SEALs. Thanks to the ship’s Reconfigurable Torpedo Room, VIRGINIA can carry ten percent more Special Operations Forces than LOS ANGELES for fifty-percent longer because the SEALs will have their own berthing, mission planning and equipment stowage space, and physical fitness area inside the torpedo room. This is accomplished by removing the torpedo storage trays and erecting a series of bunks in their place. The Reconfigurable Torpedo Room will make both the SEALs and the submarine’s crew Jess cramped and therefore better able to remain mission-focused.

Navy SEALs will also benefit from the fact that VIRGINIA was designed with an integrated Lock-in/Lock-out chamber built into the hull. This chamber can allow direct access to the sea or to a mated Dry Deck Shelter (DDS) or an Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS). The DDS provides SEALs with a compartment outside the submarine to store equipment such as the SEAL Delivery Vehicle (SDV), and a place for combat swimmers to ingress and egress. ASDS, a 65-feet, 60-ton combat submersible, allows SEALs to ride to a staging point aboard VIRGINIA, then transition to ASDS to get to their objective in secrecy. Currently, SEALs must rely on SDVs that require them to use SCUBA gear as they are open to the water, are slower, and a have shorter operational range than ASDS. In contrast, ASDS will get the operators to their objective in a warm, dry, one-atmosphere compartment, while eliminating most of the physically demanding aspects associated with SDVs. ASDS will also help enable ForceNet thanks to its advanced communication systems and ability to act as a forward-deployed node, able to go where other manned assets cannot go.

One of VIRGINIA ‘s most important innovations is her increased modularity. The Navy is working on future improvements that will make her an even more potent warfighter. Progress has already been made with the Composite Advanced Sail, which will be adaptable to new payloads, and modular payload plugs, which may allow us to switch some modules simply by hooking and unhooking cables. Soon, mission-specific, self-contained hull modules could be designed, engineered, and inserted into future submarines-both during construction and even pier-side prior to deployment-to expand VIRGINIA ‘s capabilities in numerous mission areas. VIRGINIA’s modular construction is the key to the Class’ future. Not only will the Class be able to easily and readily accept material upgrades, but it also allows designers to change the ship’s configuration to accommodate next-generation payloads.

These improved capabilities, new technologies, and increased adaptability will deliver battlespace dominance in both blue water and the littorals, and make the VIRGINIA Class submarine an indispensable part of all phases of the CNO’s Sea Power 21 concept for 21st century naval warfare. This concept includes offensive capabilities-“Sea Strike”; defensive capabilities-“Sea Shield”; and the ability to project U.S. sovereignty on the high seas-“Sea Basing.”

The Road Ahead

Since September 11, 2001, submarine missions have increased by 300 percent. The need for these submarines is as strong today and as it ever has been and is not projected to diminish. Today, the Navy has 54 fast-attack submarines, and with the LOS ANGELES (SSN 688) Class submarines nearing the end of their service life, the num&er of attack submarines could dip as low as 28 if we continue to build only one ship per year. Therefore it is imperative that we start building more than one ship per year as soon as possible. This helps maintain the required attack submarine force level and, combined with multi-year procurement, significantly reduces the unit price of these valuable assets. This is the right way ahead for the Navy, the shipbuilding industry, and the American taxpayer.

Unlike other industries, submarine builders do not have a commercial market. Many of the components that go into submarines are unique and have no other use. Because the Navy cannot guarantee our shipbuilders and their suppliers consistent business, ship set costs are inflated as the manufacturers have to re-tool once a year to build a single component, and that is an expensive undertaking. The companies, too, cannot take the financial risk to build multiple ship sets in the hope that the Navy will order all anticipated submarines.

To help the Nation’s shipbuilding industrial base remain strong, the Shipbuilders formed a unique, Congressionally-authorized teaming arrangement that brought General Dynamics’ Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman’s Newport News Shipbuilding together to build the VIRGINIA Class. With only one submarine being built per year, competing contract awards between the two companies would risk diminishing the level of expertise at the shipyards. The teaming arrangement is reaping great benefits for the Nation by retaining the people who have the specialized skills needed to build submarines.

On 14 August 2003, the Navy signed a block buy contract for six submarines from Fiscal Year (FY) 2003 to 2007. The contract stipulates that the Navy will order one VIRGINIA in FY 2003, and that it has the option to order one submarine each subsequent year until 2007 when the build rate is slated to go to two submarines per year.

The current contract is an innovative step towards controlling shipbuilding costs in this unique environment. It provides both positive incentives to underrun the target cost and reduces the profitability if the target is exceeded through a novel mix of incentives, cash-flow provisions, and cost-sharing ratios. However, there is a smarter and more efficient way to build submarines: taking advantage of economies of scale and the discounts realized when shipbuilders have a stable work outlook by pursuing a multi-year procurement strategy with Economic Order Quantity funds.

The new block buy contract allows for the Navy to enter into a multi-year Procurement arrangement in FY 2004 for up to seven FY 2004 through FY 2008 submarines should Congress provide authorization. Multi-year procurement will allow our industrial partners to build multiple ship sets because the Navy would commit to ordering all of the submarines stated in the contract and doing away with having to exercise the yearly option. This strategy would provide extensive cost savings of a minimum of$80 million per hull for 5 submarines and as high as $155 million per hull for 7 submarines. Instead of suppliers building one ship set a year, they would be able to build multiple sets at one time, thereby lowering the per-unit cost. This approach would also maintain the level of expertise needed within the industrial base, as our low build rate has forced many suppliers to move into other business avenues. Saving the taxpayers millions of dollars per ship and ensuring the continued viability of the few companies still fabricating submarine-specific components in an efficient and cost effective manner is right for the Navy, and right for the Nation.

The multi-year options do have a means by which the Navy can opt out of buying one of the two ships in FY 2007, one of the two ships in FY 2008, or both. If Congress or ┬Ěthe Navy deems that it is in the Nation’s best interest not to order two VIRGIN1As in FY 2007 or FY 2008, the Navy has until January 2006 to execute an option that would cancel the ships and increase the price for the remaining submarines. However, any material purchased for the canceled ships would not be wasted. Instead, they would go aboard a future VIRGINIA Class submarine.

CONCLUSION

VIRGINIA will be the heart of the U.S. submarine fleet for decades to come, able to adapt to meet future requirements. From design, to construction, to float off, this new class of submarine has been one of the Navy’s silent transformational leaders. From her all-computer design, to her revolutionary Photonics mast, Command and Control Systems Module, and her state-of-the-practice COATS facility, VIRGINIA has been breaking new ground. Once commissioned, VIRGINIA will demonstrate her expanded operational capabilities and prove that she is the stealthiest, most capable submarine in the world. All we need is the green light to start building them in the numbers we truly need and at the fairest price to the American people.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League