The Virginia-class (SSN-774) New Nuclear Fast Attack Submarine
General Dynamics [GD] Electric Boat Corp, and Northrop Grumman [NOC] Newport News Shipbuilding are co-developing the Virginia-class. The first boat is to be delivered in June 2004, the initial year of a seven-ship, five-year multi-year procurement program that builds to a production rate of two boats per year, starting in FY Ã«07. The Navy has planned to acquire 30 Virginia-class hulls during the program.
The Virginia-class boats are designed with integrated communication, navigation and weapon systems along with other mission systems that are to be developed in a modular fashion. Virginia is to be more than 370 feet long with a beam of just more than 33 feet, displacing nearly 8,000 tons. The boats of this class will have a 12-cell vertical launch system for RaytheonÃs [RTN] Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM); and four horizontal tubes for TLAM and Mk 48 torpedo launch. Virginia, like her predecessors in the USS Los Angeles-class (SSN-688) and USS Seawolf-class (SSN-21), is tested at depths greater than 800 feet, with top speeds underwater of greater than 25 knots. Virginia will interface with the ocean and littoral environments using sensors such as bow-conformal and flank wide-aperture arrays, towed sonar arrays and radar. The new boats will also feature a non-penetrating photonic mast, in place of a traditional periscope, capable of providing target-quality imagery for attack and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. This new class of submarines is "optimized for operation in the littoral," according to the NavyÃs submarine warfare requirements division. This means that Virginia-class submarines are suited to perform mine interdiction warfare, anti-submarine warfare patrol, and bottom surveillance missions.
Virginia is the first of a type of submarines designed to be both constructed and operated in a modular fashion. Modularity in operations means the Virginia-class will emphasize inter-connected payload capabilities and organic sensors and weapons, tying into a longer-range strategy for investing in modular design and construction, providing for electric drive and other technological enhancements later in the class. The Virginia-classÃ conformal sonar arrays, using technology called Conformal Acoustic Velocity Sonar (CAVES), replace existing technology in the sonar dome at the boatÃs bow. Conformal arrays free up space in the submarineÃs architecture and also help to change the ballast and structural dynamics of the ship, dominated in previous classes by the flooded sonar dome. Conformal sonar arrays are also in development for use in other areas on the ship to improve overall sensor performance and coverage. Virginia-class is also expected to host and operate with unmanned underwater vehicles, supporting mine interdiction warfare, anti-submarine warfare, underwater mapping, and Special Operations Force missions, among others. According to the Navy, the Virginia-classÃ initial UUV load-out, such as BoeingÃs [BA] Long-term Mine Reconnaissance System (LMRS), will support mine-interdiction warfare missions. Later, under programs such as Lockheed MartinÃs [LMT] 21" Mission Re-configurable UUV, the role of UUVs will be expanded.
The Virginia-classÃ modularity, in both its design and construction, as well as in the mission payload modules with which the new class is to be associated, is supposed to allow for the insertion of advanced technologies as these become mature. The NavyÃs program executive office for submarines has outlined a plan for gradually adding new capability to the Virginia-class as technology "bundles." According to the Navy, technology bundles include a conformal bow sonar array; an advanced composite sail for additional modular payloads–to arrive in 2015; and an electric drive system "that will become the standard of future submarines." Modular payload modules are being developed to rapidly transition the submarinesÃ capabilities for specific mission requirements, including the deployment and support of SOF units and their Northrop Grumman Advanced SEAL Delivery System; strike missions; and UUVs. Modularity also applies to the way in which Virginia is constructed. Based on a Navy estimated requirement for building two submarine annually, the modular construction method, under which sections of the submarine are built, "stuffed" with equipment, and tested separately prior to assembly, may help make a two-per-year production rate more affordable and lower-risk.