The Navy is requesting $30 million in fiscal year 2022 to help develop the next-generation attack submarine program, SSN(X), and outlined its near term development plans.
“The U.S. Navy must produce and maintain a submarine fleet that is of sufficient capability to protect America from current and future threats. SSN(X) will be designed to counter the emerging threat posed by near peer adversary competition for undersea supremacy,” the budget request released in May said.
While the current Virginia-class attack submarine was designed for multi-mission dominance in littoral waters, the budget documents argue SSN(X) will be designed for “greater transit speed under increased stealth conditions in all ocean environments, and carry a larger inventory of weapons and diverse payloads.”
The submarine will also be designed to retain a multi-mission capability and sustained combat presence in denied waters, “with a renewed priority in the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) mission against sophisticated threats in greater numbers.”
The Navy will require SSN(X) to be able to defend against unmanned undersea vehicle (UUVs) and coordinate with a larger contingent of off-hull vehicles, sensors and friendly forces.
“The primary goal of the SSN(X) program element will be to evaluate a broad range of submarine technologies, sensors, and combat system components required to produce an affordable platform which supports these mission requirements,” budget documents said.
The Navy said this program will continue to define requirement options and cost estimates to support a construction contract planned to be awarded in the mid- to late-2030s.
Initial efforts in FY ‘21 were focused on finishing the Capabilities Based Assessment, conducting studies and technology development efforts in preparation for the Analysis of Alternatives (AoA), and starting an Initial Capabilities Document (ICD). Previously funds also supported acquisition documentation development, engineering support efforts and ship design management efforts.
In FY ‘22 the Navy plans to complete the ICD; commence pre-work for the AoA; begin advance technology development needed for prioritized performance targets; continue technical and concept development studies to define the submarine platform design trade space and develop requirements for DDG(X); continue trade studies and technical information to support the AoA; continue developing near and long-term schedules and identifying resource requirement to support SSN(X); and use studies and development efforts from the Virginia-class and Columbia-class submarines.
Budget documents noted SSN(X) is currently developing the acquisition strategy while “industry based engagement will begin to inform, develop, and prepare for competitively awarded contracts. Additional R&D efforts will be performed by Navy laboratories, shipyards, private industry, and University Affiliated Research Centers.”
Last November, Vice Adm. Daryl Caudle, commander of submarine force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, said the Navy was looking at three tracks to base the SSN(X) on the Virginia-class attack submarine, the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, or a totally new hull form (Defense Daily, Nov. 16, 2020).
Caudle said the service is focused on speed, stealth and payload capacity in determining what fits for SSN(X). He said the stealth is not limited to acoustic but across all spectrums.
Also in November, during an earnings call BWX Technologies [BWXT] CEO and President Rex Geveden said their company expects the SSN(X) to be significantly larger than the Virginia-class and likely closer to the Columbia-class in size. BWXT builds the nuclear reactors for the Navy’s submarines and aircraft carriers (Defense Daily, Nov. 4, 2020).
Last October, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said speed was one of the most important factors in SSN(X) but also emphasized the importance of a larger payload as well (Defense Daily, Oct. 16, 2020).
In a 2019 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of a previous 30-year shipbuilding plan, the CBO argued a planned set of 33 SSN(X) vessels would cost more than the Navy expects. CBO estimated the submarine would be closer to the larger Seawolf-class submarine than the Virginia-class and while the Navy estimated SSN(X) would cost $3.4 billion per hull, CBO estimated it would be closer to $5.5 billion per hull. (Defense Daily, Oct. 10, 2019).