While she might be delayed, the Block V Virginia-class submarine will be the best sub on Earth when she heads out to sea: Government auditors made it known earlier in June that production of the U.S. Navy’s Block V Virginia-class submarines will be delayed by at least two years. The Government Accountability Office explained that a more realistic schedule for these sophisticated vessels should be finalized this year.
According to the report, staffing issues are to blame. In fact, the primary manufacturer, General Dynamics Electric Boat, has already tapped Austal USA to pick up some of the production work, as General Dynamics is also currently developing Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines.
With the delays, the already hefty cost of these submarines is expected to increase. The Navy plans to request additional funds to complete the Block V variant.
The History of the Virginia-Class Submarines
Under the Centurion Study, the Virginia class in the 1990s became the first U.S. Navy warship developed in part by 3D visualization technology. It was intended to be a less pricey alternative to Seawolf-class submarines, and engineers at Electric Boat were able to shave roughly $1 billion from production costs by using off-the-shelf commercial components. Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding developed the first Virginia-class ship in the early 2000s, and the two manufacturers remain the sole engineers behind this formidable class of nuclear-powered submarines.
Specs and Capabilities
Since entering service in 2004, the Virginia class of fast-attack submarines has incrementally improved. Today, these vessels feature the latest stealth attributes, weapons systems, technology, and intelligence gathering capabilities.
The ships displace nearly 8,000 tons, with a hull length measuring more than 377 feet. Being nuclear-powered gives the boats a high top speed of around 25 knots. The subs are smaller than Seawolf-class boats, but their advanced technology is a big advantage. The Block II Virginia-class submarines feature modifications that focus primarily on production efficiency.
Eight vessels make up the Block III Virginia-class, which was redesigned to lower acquisition costs and enhance flexibility. Block III boats include technology taken from Ohio-class submarines, including the replacement of one dozen vertical launch tubes for Tomahawk land attack missiles with two 87-inch diameter tubes capable of firing larger payloads. (Each houses six Tomahawks.)
What Makes the Block V Variant Stand Out?
Block V Virginia-class submarines will host even greater capabilities than their sister variants. Perhaps the most significant addition will be the Virginia payload module (VPM), which is essentially a hull plug that can increase the boat’s payload, allowing the Block V submarines to carry three times as many missiles as their predecessors. According to The Drive, the new VPM fitted to upcoming Block V Virginia-class ships features a “similar hull plug that stretches 84 feet that would be adapted to the seabed warfare role instead of hauling around cruise, hypersonic, and other missiles.”
While the production line for the Virginia-class submarines may be delayed, the eventual introduction of these vessels to service will undoubtedly enhance the Navy’s sea-based capabilities.
About the Author
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.