The Virginia ClassA
New Submarine for the 21st Century
by Patrick Connor
You’ve probably heard about the U.S. Navy’s newest
nuclear powered submarine, USS Seawolf (SSN 21). Perhaps
you read about her in the newspapers, or read the articles in the
Fall 1997 issue of Deckplate,
or watched the documentary on cable television’s The Learning Channel.
But have you heard anything about the Navy’s next generation
submarine, the Virginia Class attack submarine?
The Next-Generation Submarine
The Virginia Class submarine will provide
the U. S. Navy the capabilities required to maintain the nations
undersea supremacy well into the 21st century. It will have
improved stealthiness, sophisticated surveillance capabilities,
and special warfare enhancements to meet the Navys multi-mission
This next-generation submarine is the first U.S.
submarine class to be designed for battlespace dominance across
a broad spectrum of regional and littoral missions as well as open-ocean,
blue water missions. It will achieve the right balance
between core military capabilities and affordability.
The construction contract for the first four Virginia
Class submarines was awarded on September 30, 1998, to Electric
Boat Corporation, with Newport News Shipbuilding serving as the
major subcontractor. Under the construction contract, and consistent
with a unique teaming plan, the shipbuilders will alternate final
assembly and testing of the four ships. Newport News will build
the bow, stern, sail, and selected forward modules for each submarine,
while Electric Boat will build the hull cylinders, the engine room
modules, and the command and control system module. Both shipbuilders
will fabricate reactor compartments for the ships they assemble.
This construction teaming plan is shown in the pictorial below.
The first and second of the new fast attack submarines,
SSN 774 and SSN 775, have been named USS Virginia and USS
Texas, respectively. Names for the later two submarines have
not yet been announced.
Multi-Mission Operations and Operational Flexibility
The Virginia Class submarine is being designed
for multi-mission operations and enhanced operational flexibility.
Seawolf Class quieting is being incorporated in a smaller
hull, while military performance will be maintained or improved.
The Virginia Class submarine is being engineered
for maximum design flexibility. Its responsiveness to changing missions
and threats, and the affordable insertion of new technologies, ensures
that it will continue to be the right submarine well into the 21st
century. Integrated electronic systems with Commercial-Off-The-Shelf
(COTS) components facilitate state-of-the-art technology introduction
throughout the life of the Virginia Class submarine and avoids
The Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence
(C3I) electronics packages also promote maximum flexibility
for growth and upgrade. Coupled with the Modular Isolated Deck Structure
(MIDS) and open-system architecture, this approach results in a
significantly lower cost, yet more effective command and control
structure for fire control, navigation, electronic warfare, and
The Virginia Class submarine’s sonar system
will be state-of-the-art with vastly increased signal processing
power than today’s attack submarine! The system will be able to
process and distribute data received from its spherical bow array,
high-frequency array suite, dual towed arrays, and flank array suite.
The Virginia Class submarine C3I prime contract was awarded
to Lockheed Martin Federal Systems, Manassas, Virginia, in April
1996. This system, through its extensive use of COTS and open system
architecture, is a pace setter on achieving breakthroughs in system
affordability and flexibility. This innovative approach will achieve
new performance standards while minimizing risk, and promoting new
levels of extended contractor responsibility and participation in
the maintenance and upgrade of the system over its life-cycle.
The sail configuration houses two new photonics
masts for improved imaging functions, an improved electronics support
measures mast, and multi-mission masts that cover the frequency
domain for full-spectrum, high data-rate communications. The sail
is also designed for future installation of a special mission-configurable
mast for enhanced flexibility and warfighting performance.
The Virginia Class Ship Control System (SCS)
provides all the control and monitoring functions for maneuvering
and controlling ship dynamic operations. Included in the technology
strategy for the SCS is fly-by-wire. Similar to advanced aircraft,
fly-by-wire architecture is a control system which relies on redundant
electronic data buses operated by a fault tolerant set of processors
to control the operators commands to the control surfaces actuators.
This replaces the past exclusive use of hydraulic controls between
the ship control station and control surfaces.
The Virginia Class submarine will be armed
with a variety of weapons, including the most advanced heavyweight
torpedoes, mines, Tomahawk cruise missiles, and Unmanned Undersea
Vehicles (UUVs) for horizontal launch. In addition, Tomahawk missiles
will be carried in vertical launch tubes. The submarine also features
an integral Lock-Out/Lock-In chamber for special operations, and
can host Special Operations Forces underwater delivery vehicles.
Reducing acquisition and life-cycle costs is a major
objective of the Virginia Class submarine design and engineering
process. Substantial cost avoidance is being achieved through the
application of concurrent engineering design/build teams, computer-aided
design and electronic visualization tools, system simplification,
parts standardization, and component elimination. These innovations
ensure that the ship will be affordable in sufficient numbers in
order to satisfy America’s future nuclear attack submarine force
level requirements. The end result is an extremely versatile weapon
system at a nearly 30 percent reduction in follow ship cost.
The Virginia Class Submarine Program Office
is applying the lessons learned from successful Government and industry
programs of similar scope and complexity to improve producibility
and lower costs. Integrated Product and Process Development (IPPD)
teams are bringing the combined experience of the shipbuilders,
vendors, designers, engineers, and ship operators to bear on the
ship design. The early involvement of production personnel on these
teams ensures an excellent match between the design and the shipbuilder’s
construction processes and facilities, allows a smoother transition
from design to production, and reduces the number of engineering
change orders typically required during lead ship construction.
The ship is designed using a state-of-the-art digital database,
which allows all members of the IPPD teams to work from a single
design and provides three-dimensional electronic mock-ups throughout
the design process.
In order to provide cost-effective production of
Virginia Class submarines, a co-production (teaming) arrangement
has been established utilizing the combined strengths of Electric
Boat Corporation and Newport News Shipbuilding. This co-production
arrangement fits with each company’s independent objective of maintaining
its technological skills, operational capacity, facilities, and
other strengths in the design and construction of submarines, while
offering the Government the best combination of performance, cost,
and delivery. Cost effectiveness is realized through an integrated
ship’s construction workscope split that allows for steeper learning
curves at each shipyard, more efficient rollover of trades, and
reduced second yard planning efforts.
These efforts, along with strong support from Navy
and shipbuilder management, will result in an affordable submarine
that satisfies all operational needs.
The military performance of the Virginia
Class submarine will be comparable to that of the Seawolf
Class, with significant improvement in littoral warfare capabilities
and considerably less cost. It will surpass the performance of any
current projected threat submarine, thus ensuring U.S. undersea
dominance well into the next century. And the develop-design-build
process that the Virginia Class submarine program has created
will be the role model for future Navy design efforts.
For more information, visit the Virginia
Class attack submarine web site: www.nssn.navy.mil
Patrick Connor is the Assistant for Technical
Requirements in the Procurement Branch of the Virginia Class
Attack Submarine Program.