The Virginia Class Submarine:Quieter, Faster, Better

Photo Courtesy of The U.S. Navy. Photo by General Dynamics Electric Boat

By: John Carpenter

The United States Navy has many ships in its arsenal; aircraft carriers, destroyers, cruisers, and submarines to name a few of them, and many of these will have various classes, the sub-surface force of the United States Navy is no different. The United States Navy operates three different types of submarines: ballistic missile submarines(SSBN), guided missile submarines(SSGN), and attack submarines(SSN). The Virginia-Class is the newest fast attack submarine of the United States Navy the first of which commissioned on October 23, 2004, and offers a more advanced version of the previous Los Angeles-Class, and the Seawolf-Class boats.

While the mission of the Virginia-Class submarine remains the same as its predecessors, the newest fast attack capabilities of the United States Naval Fleet offers a more technologically advanced subsurface threat to adversaries in every aspect. The Virginia-Class submarine was initially designed to only cost $2.7 billion, however currently the “estimated purchase price [is] about $3.2 billion per sub,”(Werner) due to the implementation of the Virginia Payload Module. The new Block V submarines contain the VPM, which adds an additional 84 feet to the mid-body of the submarine, adding four more large diameter launch tubes in order to store and capable of launching additional Tomahawk missiles.

All new Virginia-Class boats after 2019 will be commissioned with the Virginia Payload Module. While the Virginia-Class was proposed as a cheaper alternative to the Seawolf-Class, with the updated Virginia Payload Modules, it has become more expensive, but comes with superior technology, and additional weapon capabilities. Congress was involved in procuring the extra funds required to pay for the updated Submarines equipped with the Virginia Payload Module, an estimated $500 million more than originally planned per unit.

The additional capabilities of the Block V and onward boats will more effectively keep potential adversaries wary of the sub-surface threat posed by the Virginia-Class submarine. With the high cost of the Virginia-Class, it no longer fulfills its original role, of being the cheaper alternative to the Seawolf-Class boats, however, it will come with the most advanced technology currently available.  The newest class of fast attack submarines has more advanced technology, and capabilities that makes it superior to its two predecessors, and any other foreign subsurface boats. The Virginia-Class submarine acoustic technology is far more advanced than that of the Seawolf-Class, and more advanced than any of our rivals.

The United States Navy believes that with our current method of using, “Rotating mechanical device to push the ship through the water,”(Rear Admiral Michael Jabaley), we have reached the limit of our acoustical performance. In order to advance any further with our acoustic technology we will need to discover how to propel ships without moving parts, which is currently beyond our capabilities. The addition of the Virginia Payload Module will increase the weapon capabilities of the boat, making it a much deadlier threat and a more efficient deterrent to any attack on United States vessels. Additionally, the Virginia-Class and Seawolf-Class, have speeds of greater than 25 knots, and greater than 20 knots respectively. With greater speed, the new class of submarines offer greater versatility, and will be able to more effectively accomplish its goal of hunting and sinking enemy ships.

The greater speed additionally decreases potential response times in the event of a conflict, where they would be able to more quickly respond to a threat. The advanced technology of the Virginia-Class boats put it above the Seawolf submarines, and the fast attack submarines of adversaries, keeping them on their toes.  Being able to move faster, quieter, and carry more missiles makes the newest class of submarine, the Virginia-Class submarine, clearly superior to its predecessors. If a submarine is able to better track without being discovered, it can more easily destroy its target with a lower risk to themselves. Moving faster than your opponents is vital, especially if you need to reach a target before they reach their destination, or when evading other combatant submarines. The implementation of the Virginia-Class submarine over the Seawolf-Class submarine is important for the future of submarine, and naval warfare. Initially being designed to be more cost effective, the Virginia-Class offers better technology, speed, and a greater payload capacity, while only being marginally more expensive than its predecessor.

The Virginia-Class is one of the most vital parts of the United States Navy, and is on the forefront of the fight against foreign submarines, and surface ships. The reconnaissance capabilities offered by the newest class of submarines, keeps our intelligence more accurate by being able to get closer without being discovered, and by being to travel greater distances in shorter periods of time. With the technology aboard the newest submarine it will be a more effective deterrent in any potential conflict.  The Virginia-Class submarines have the additional advantage of having repair parts readily available rather than having to scavenge parts like the Seawolf boats have to do in order to make repairs. An alarming problem that develops when there are so few systems being operated, such as there only being three Seawolf-Class subs ever built, is that the necessary parts required to make repairs are no longer being produced.

The USS Jimmy Carter was the third and final Seawolf-Class submarine built, and is one of the most important, and often most secretive sub commissioned by the United States. The problem of not having the required parts for repair causes the USS Jimmy Carter to cannibalize the remaining two Seawolf class submarines in order to remain operational. The new Virginia-Class boats do not have this problem as there are a planned sixty-six boats, and with numerous boats, there will be ample repair parts in order to keep these fast attack submarines operational without having to take parts from fellow Virginia-Class boats leaving them unable to accomplish their respective mission. The numerous Virginia-Class submarines itself provides an advantage over its predecessor as they are able to maintain and repair boats without taking parts from another Virginia-Class sub. 

 The more cost effective Virginia-Class submarine was designed to be the best submarine in the United States Navy, and while initially cheaper, it has become only marginally more expensive than its predecessor. The greater cost comes with superior technology to the previous fast attack boats and foreign adversaries. The submarine force of the United States Navy needs to be the fastest, quietest, and the most well equipped in order to keep ahead of potential enemies under the water. With better acoustic technology, more payload capacity, and better speed, the Virginia-Class submarine is a clear choice over its older, and less advanced predecessors. While the mission of the fast attack submarine has not changed, the newest class is able to more effectively pursue and accomplish this mission than any other class.

There is no doubt that the increased technology, alongside the lower cost of the Virginia-Class submarines gives it the edge over the former fast attack boats in the United States Navy.

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