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Meet the SSN(X): A New Stealth Submarine Built for a War with Russia

Image of US Navy Attack Submarine in dry dock. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Image of US Navy Attack Submarine in dry dock.

Why the SSN(X) next-generation U.S. submarine will be more than a handful for Russia or China in any armed conflict of the future: Building on its prowess in undersea warfare, the U.S. Navy is working on a yet-to-be-designed new submarine that will have the speed and firepower to dominate enemy shipping and submarines. Admirals in charge of procurement of the SSN(X) program are excited. This next-generation attack sub will be faster and quieter than the current and already capable nuclear-attack Virginia-class boat.

Admiral Is Ready for the New SSN(X) Sub

Rear Admiral Doug Perry, the director of the undersea warfare division on the chief of naval operations staff, told USNI News in November that “We don’t know the specific characteristics that will be in SSNs. But we do believe that the next submarine will have a large horizontal payload capacity. You can read that as it’s going to carry a lot of torpedoes. And we know how to do that. It’ll be fast. And it’ll have acoustic superiority. That’s both sensors to hear the other ships out there as well as stealth – staying quiet,” Perry said.

Will It Be Fully Funded?

The SSN(X) program is setting the goal of 2031 for the new submarine to be introduced to the fleet. The navy had a proposed budget in the FY22 National Defense Authorization Act NDAA of $98 million for research and development funding. But the FY 2022 NDAA gave it only $30 million. That’s not much for such an ambitious project, but the navy expects these expenditures to be ramped up for the SSN(X).

SSN(X) Could Be Handy Versus Russia or China

The SSN(X) needs to be versatile. Threats from competitors such as Russia or China require an attack sub to defeat countermeasures, bully surface fleets, eliminate submarines, and escort aircraft carriers. The Taiwan Strait is one theater that the SSN(X) could be a difference-maker provided Taiwan is still struggling with mainland China for its independence in ten years. China has also militarized various rocks and reefs in the East and South China Seas that can threaten U.S. maritime freedom of navigation. SSN(X) could ensure these islands do not become launching grounds for attacks. In ten years, China could potentially send unmanned underwater vehicles from the disputed islands to target American submarines.

SSN(X) Quarterback for Drones (Or Think Underwater Aircraft Carrier of Sorts)

The SSN(X) could also have its own drone capabilities by controlling unmanned underwater craft to thwart China by providing early warning for enemy ships and subs, a sort of underwater aircraft carrier if you will. Aerial drones could provide the SSN(X) targeting data for torpedoes.

It Could Have Hypersonic Missiles

By the time the SSN(X) is sea-worthy there should be improvements or even replacements of current cruise missiles and perhaps even hypersonic missiles making its attack capabilities even more dominant compared to the existing Virginia-class boats. Russia is already testing its own hypersonic weapon that is launched from a submarine.

Another flag officer is enthusiastic about the SSN(X). Vice Admiral Bill Houston, who is over Naval Submarine Forces and Allied Submarine Command, said of the new program at a Navy League event last summer, “We are looking at the ultimate apex predator for the maritime domain.”

It will take cheerleaders like these admirals to bang the drum about how important a new attack sub is to continue exemplary service in the Indo-Pacific. Congress may determine that building new Virginia-class boats is sufficient. But China may extend its advantage as the largest navy in the world – currently with about 355 ships and submarines. The U.S. Navy is calling for 66 SSN attack subs by FY 2048. That’s way down the road. Until then the Virginia class will have to suffice. That’s not bad news because the Virginia boats can insert SEAL teams and sneak close to shore to collect intelligence.

The SSN(X) will need funding from future presidential administrations and Congress, but with the growth of the Chinese navy and its current force levels, it would make sense to fully supply the SSN(X) program each fiscal year.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.