Virginia class submarine
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|Virginia-class attack submarine|
|Class Type||Attack Submarine (SSN)|
|Class Name||In honor of the Commonwealth of Virginia|
|Succeeded By||N/A, latest attack submarine class authorized|
|Ships of the Class:||Virginia, Texas, Hawaii, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Mexico|
The Virginia class (or SSN-774 class) of attack submarines are the first U.S. subs to be designed for a broad spectrum of open-ocean and littoral missions around the world. They were designed as a cheaper alternative to the Cold War era Seawolf-class attack submarines, and are slated to replace aging Los Angeles class subs, thirteen of which have already been decommissioned.
The Virginias incorporate several innovations. Instead of periscopes, the subs have a pair of two extendable "photonics masts" outside the pressure hull. Each contains several high-resolution cameras with light-intensification and infrared sensors, an infrared laser rangefinder, and an integrated Electronic Support Measures (ESM) array. Signals from the masts' sensors are transmitted through fiber optic data lines through signal processors to the control center. They also make use of pump-jet propulsors for quieter operations.
 Construction and Controversy
The Virginias were intended, in part, as a slightly cheaper ($1.8 vs $2 billion) alternative to the Seawolf class, whose production run was stopped after just three vessels. To reduce costs, the Virginias use many "off-the-shelf" components, especially in their computers and data networks. In practice they actually cost about $2.3 billion (in fiscal year 2005 dollars) each, due in part to the lack of an economy of scale.
In hearings before both House of Representatives and Senate committees, the Congressional Research Service and expert witnesses testified that the current procurement plans of the Virginia class—one per year at present, accelerating to two per year beginning in 2012—resulted in high unit costs and (according to some of the witnesses and some of the committee chairmen) an insufficient number of attack submarines. In a March 10, 2005 statement to the House Armed Services Committee, Ronald O'Rourke of the CRS testified that, assuming the production rate remains as planned, "production economies of scale for submarines would continue to remain limited or poor."
The Virginia class is built through an industrial arrangement designed to keep both GD Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman Newport News (the only U.S. shipyards capable of building nuclear vessels) in the submarine-building business. Under the present arrangement, the Newport News facility builds the stern, habitability & machinery spaces, torpedo room, sail and bow, while Electric Boat builds the engine room and control room. The facilities alternate work on the reactor plant as well as the final assembly, test, outfit and delivery.
O'Rourke wrote  in 2004 that, "Compared to a one-yard strategy, approaches involving two yards may be more expensive but offer potential offsetting benefits." Among the claims of "offsetting benefits" that O'Rourke attributes to supporters of a two-facility construction arrangement is that it "would permit the United States to continue building submarines at one yard even if the other yard is rendered incapable of building submarines permanently or for a sustained period of time by a catastrophic event of some kind", including an attack.
- The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable is mounting a national grassroots campaign to convince Congress and the Navy to name one of the submarines after the ironclad USS Monitor. Monitor fought the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia (formerly USS Merrimack) to a standstill on March 9, 1862, in the first battle between ironclad warships (see Battle of Hampton Roads). Not only is Virginia the class name, but one of the construction facilities is located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.
- The Virginia Class submarine was the first American submarine to be completely designed on computers.
 Technical information
 General characteristics
- Builders: GD Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman Newport News
- Length: 377 ft (114.91 m)
- Beam: 34 ft (10.36 m)
- Displacement: 7,800 tons
- Payload: 40 weapons, special operations forces, unmanned undersea vehicles, Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS)
- Propulsion: S9G reactor
- Max. diving depth: greater than 800 ft (255 m)
- Speed: 25+ knots
- Planned cost: about US$1.65 billion each (based on FY95 dollars, 30-ship class & 2 ship/year build-rate, which has not yet been authorized)
- Actual cost: about $2.3 billion each (as of 2005)
- Crew: 120 Enlisted and 14 Officers
- Armament: UGM-109 Tactical Tomahawk, UGM-84D Harpoon, VLS tubes, Mark 48 torpedoes, four torpedo tubes, advanced mobile mines, and unmanned undersea vehicles.
- Virginia (SSN-774), commissioned and in service
- Texas (SSN-775), commissioned and in service
- Hawaii (SSN-776), delivered in 2006.
- North Carolina (SSN-777), named December 11, 2000; scheduled delivery in 2008; this is the last ship of the First Block or "Flight"
- New Hampshire (SSN-778) has been ordered for delivery in 2010
- New Mexico (SSN-779) has been ordered for delivery in 2011
- SSN-780 was ordered in 2005 and is expected to be delivered in April, 2011
- SSN-781 was ordered in 2006 and is expected to be delivered in 2013
- SSN-782 was ordered in 2006 and is expected to be delivered in 2013
- SSN-783 is expected to be ordered in 2008; this is the last ship of the Second Block or "Flight"
- SSN-784 through approximately SSN-791 are planned to make up the Third Block or "Flight" and should begin construction in 2009
|List of submarines of the United States Navy
List of submarine classes of the United States Navy
- General Dynamics Press Release Dec 28, 2006