Dr. Svialov is a frequent contributor to THE SUBMARINE REVIEW and has been a knowledgeable observer of submarine characteristics across the world.
The problem of a configuration of the next generation of the United States of America nuclear attack submarine is a reality.
On the other hand, it is possible to say that existing American nuclear attack submarines of the Virginia class are ideal and it is not necessary to create something new. Maybe, but let us also think about something else.
First of all it is necessary to say that in proper time the naval architects and submarine community of the USA will be confronted with the dilemma of what to do? Continue to build the Los Angeles class subs, build Sea wolf new attack class or create something new?
Because of less displacement and cost, they decided to choose the Los Angeles as a prototype of the Virginia class new American SSN, and now maybe it is reasonable to go by a similar pattern.
Following that way and using the Virginia as a prototype of the new American Nuclear Attack Submarine, it is possible to preserve almost all of her naval architectural and operational characteristics, increasing only some 10% the sub’s diving depth, using improved hull steel, and keeping almost the same but more sophisticated weapons and electronics systems. The result would be a bit improved Virginia class sub with 40 weapons (and 12 vertical missile launchers and four torpedo tubes) and a minimum possible cost. It is a very attractive option.
But there is another option: to take as a prototype of a new US nuclear attack submarine the SSN Seawolf. From the point of view of this article’s author it is, maybe, a more attractive option.
The Improved Seawolf class American nuclear attack submarine, which now have eight 26-inch torpedo/missile tubes and 50 weapons (torpedoes and cruise missiles) could be easily modified for carrying not SO but 66 weapons by installing in its first ballast tank 16 cruise missiles in the vertical launching tubes. That gives a possibility to have almost doubled the weapons payload on a future submarine in comparison with VIRGINIA by a very small increase of cost.
People arc saying that brevity is a sister of talent. I agree.
In support of the premise I would like to present characteristics of Seawolf. Virginia, improved Virginia and improved Scawolf class American nuclear attack submarines in comparison with Acula class (Project 971) Russian nuclear attack submarine.
It seems that the Improved Seawolf would be a very attractive and cost-effective option. The most advantageous indicator of that option would be an increase the number of the sub’s weapons from 38 to 66. And increasing the number of vertical cruise missiles launchers from 12 to 16 and the number of torpedo/missile tubes from 4 to 8 is an additional operational advantage of the Improved Seawolf. It should be mentioned that using practically ideal naval architectural scheme with a little more steel strength will give the possibility of an increase to some degree of the diving depth of the submarine and its blast resistance.
It should be stressed that the more simple option of the United States nuclear attack submarines development is continuation of building the Improved Virginia class SSN’s using new steel and increasing a little bit their diving depth and blast resistance. It would be the cheapest way and in principle the number of weapons on the subs can be increased by increasing the number of internal reserve weapons from 22 to 44 and the overall number of weapons from 38 to 60. But in such a case the Improved Virginia would be too long and not completely perfect from a naval architectural point of view. But that option would be the most cost effective and cheap way of an American Nuclear Attack Submarines development.
On the first glance, the problem of choosing a new United States nuclear submarine configuration is extremely difficult and sophisticated. In principle that’s correct. In the civilian area a similar problem is choosing of a new mass production car for the American people . In deciding that problem the major role must belong to the US Navy, which must solve the problem: what is better for it: an improved Virginia or an improved Seawolr?
The crucial question in this dilemma is the overall cost of a program for building of 20-30 new nuclear attack submarines with a unit price of some 2 billion dollars. Certainly such a cost would be lower if the United States Navy will choose the Virginia class SSN as a prototype for a new US Navy’s nuclear attack submarine of the XXI century.
In conclusion I would like to answer a question, which the Chief Editor of THE SUBMARINE REVIEW put to me recently. Is it reasonable to reduce the sizes of the submarines’ torpedoes and missiles in order to increase the numbers of them and increase its combat cost-effectiveness?
By my opinion, such a way is not proper for the United States Submarine community. Why?
The Soviet Navy went in the contrary different direction.
Having the two meters longer than American same caliber (21 inch, 533 mm) torpedoes, Russians decided also to create a huge 650 mm caliber 12 meters long torpedoes. Maybe, their monsters had some advantages in explosive power and range, but they were not decisive in comparison with standard 533 mm torpedoes. In addition it appeared that the big torpedoes were less reliable and more dangerous. The loss of the Russian SSGN huge nuclear submarine KURSK in 2000 happened as a result of an accidental blast of such a 650 mm torpedo.
So, as it seems to me, the existing size of 533 mm 6 meter long MK-48 type American submarines’ torpedoes and the same size cruise missiles is optimal and must be preserved for future American nuclear attack submarines. The reduction of the American nuclear submarines’ torpedo and missile sizes cannot be recommended.