NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The Virginia-class attack submarine program manager last week said his office is in the early steps of considering what the Block VI design will include, noting it will likely have special operations and unmanned systems integration.

“With Block V and beyond it’s all about how do we bring change and increase capability,” Capt. Christopher Hanson said here during a presentation at the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space expo last week.

Naval Sea System Command’s presentation on the Virginia-class submarine at the Navy League’s 2019 Sea Air Space Expo. (Image: U.S. Navy)
Naval Sea System Command’s presentation on the Virginia-class submarine at the Navy League’s 2019 Sea Air Space Expo. (Image: U.S. Navy)

“That capability really comes in two ways. One is things that are inherent to the design and built to the submarine and the other piece of that is how do we design the submarine to have interface requirements so that future payloads…can be accommodated in the future in how we design the submarine to be able to do that over the next decade or two,” Hanson said.

Seven of eight total Block III boats have been delivered, with the final one under construction. The Block III submarines were funded in FY ’09 – ’13. All 10 Block IV vessels are currently under construction and funded form FY ’14-’18. Block V is being funded through FY ’19 – ’23 accounts and is set to start construction this year.

Block VI boats are set to go into production in FY ’24.

Hanson said that for Block VI “we’re currently in the phase of looking at various concepts and capabilities and determining their feasibility through the rest of this year. So, in about the next year, we’ll start going through the decision points in terms of requirements of what we want to have in that lot and out.”

He underscored their Block VI work is being guided by the Tactical Submarine Evolution Plan (TSEP), which sketches out additional desired capability and monitors technical readiness.

“The focus from Block VI is to looking at SOF [Special Operations Forces] optimization” as well as other ocean interfaces and payloads like other weapons systems and unmanned vehicles.”

Hanson said the payloads they are considering range from almost being ready to put on a submarine or “just one year into thinking about it.”

“As we work through Block V design and head into Block VI, we’re trying to optimize the designs so that…we minimize any changes or interfaces, special interfaces that we have to use,” Hanson added.

He noted the office is working to define requirements that bridge the gap between payloads the submarines may need and build in as much as possible “to make it as easy as possible to integrate a payload either in a few years or a decade later.”