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SSN(X): The US Navy’s Plan to Build the Ultimate Submarine

US Navy Los-Angeles Attack Submarine. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
US Navy Los-Angeles Attack Submarine. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The new SSN(X) class of submarines looks to ensure the US Navy can dominate China or Russia in any future conflict: You’ve heard “Run Silent, Run Deep” as one of the main mottos used by American submariners to explain what they do for a living. And coming in roughly a decade, a new submarine can add additional firepower to that rallying cry as it has room for even more torpedoes. The next-generation SSN(X) attack submarine is designed to dominate undersea warfare.


(May 21, 2003) — This conceptual drawing shows the new Virginia-class attack submarine now under construction at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Conn., and Northrop Grumman Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va. The first ship of this class, USS Virginia (SSN 774) is scheduled to be delivered to the U.S. Navy in 2004. U.S. D.O.D. graphic by Ron Stern. (RELEASED)

Are You Ready for an Improved Virginia-class?

However, we’ll have to wait until 2031 for this sub to hit the water. How could the SSN(X) be better than the existing Virginia-class? The Virginia-class is already dominant. It’s loaded with four torpedo tubes, Tomahawk cruise missiles, and Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The Virginias have an electromagnetic signature reduction system that enables the submarines to sneak around and attack without warning.

Now the U.S. Navy wants to improve on the Virginia-class with a sub that will need less maintenance, hold more than 50 torpedoes, and set speed records. Those torpedoes could have ranges longer than 200 nautical miles.

Yes, the SSN(X) Has Fighting China and Russia In Mind

The Virginia-class can also creep close to shore and insert Navy SEALs. The SSN(X) will remain farther out in deeper ocean environments to overawe new Russian and Chinese subs that also have noise reduction improvements and newer ballistic and cruise missiles. The two near-peer navies may even be working on a new stealthy sub together.


U.S. Navy Sailors stationed aboard the Virginia Class New Attack Submarine Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) TEXAS (SSN 775) stands topside as the boat gets underway from Naval Station Norfolk, Va., Aug. 22, 2006. TEXAS is the second Virginia Class submarine built and the first major U.S. Navy combatant vessel class designed with the post-Cold War security environment in mind. TEXAS will be commissioned Sept 9, 2006 in Galveston, Texas. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Kelvin Edwards) (Released)

The SSN(X) Could be a Drone Mothership

Interestingly, the SSN(X) will play a big role with undersea drones. It may be able to control more than one from the sub. The undersea drones could have their own sonar systems for early warning of enemy vessels. Also, the SSN (X) could be integrated with an unmanned aerial craft that flies out ahead and create targeting data for the new sub – the aerial drone could then guide the torpedo to paydirt.

Anti-Submarine Warfare Capability a Must

The SSN(X) will also have a mission to eliminate enemy submarines, not just surface warfare. It is supposed to thrive in “contested environments” that are full of adversarial subs. It will have better sensors and sonar than the Virginia-class and be quieter.

Congress Has to Cut Loose Substantial Funding

All of this technology will require years of considerable funding. The Navy just asked Congress for $98 million for research and development for the SSN(X). The FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act gave it only $30 million. That lower number is not a show-stopper. Funding will likely ramp up in future years since the submarine is so far away from reality.

What Kind of Nuclear Plant?

The Congressional Research Service recommends that the Navy figure out whether the SSN(X) nuclear reactor plant will be comprised of low-enriched uranium rather than high-enriched uranium. A low-enriched reactor would have to be larger, and a new high-enriched uranium supply facility may be needed for future nuclear submarines.

Nuclear Submarines

The Virginia-class attack submarine Minnesota (SSN 783) is under construction at Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Newport News Shipbuilding/Released)

SSN(X) Is the Future

The SSN(X) is an intriguing project and something for the U.S. submarine community to look forward to, assuming Congress keeps up with funding requests. It is a natural progression on existing technology with up-to-date plans for innovations such as undersea drone warfare. The SSN(X) is assured to be a difference-maker and able to adroitly run silent and run deep.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, Ph.D., 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.