The Navy leadership and members of Congress continue to advocate for a sustained uptick in Virginia-class attack submarine production in coming years to help offset an anticipated deficit when more Los-Angeles class boats retire.
For many years now, the combatant commander demand for submarines has exceeded the number of available boats, a circumstance driving the Navy to advocate for faster construction of Virginia-class boats and analyze options to expand the US industrial base capacity such that it can successfully accommodate a needed procurement acceleration.
Navy’s 2023 Budget Request
The Navy’s 2023 budget requests seems to reflect this urgency, as the service is requesting $541 million to “invest” in the submarine industrial base.
This is quite significant, as it will enable the service and its industry partners to train and retain the skilled workforce needed to propel sustained construction and innovation. The investment will also support large-scale increases in supply chain capacity, strategic outsourcing to more vendors and the core shipbuilding infrastructure itself, Rear Admiral John Gumbleton, Deputy Assistant Secretary Of The Navy For Budget, told reporters, according to a Pentagon transcript.
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Expanding infrastructure can help enable the Navy to pursue its longstanding ambition of building three Virginia-class submarines per year in coming years, without compromising development and manufacturing for the now-underway Columbia-class nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines.
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Block V Virginia-class attack submarines
The Navy 2023 budget requests funding for two Block V Virginia-class attack submarines, asking for $6.6 billion for the boats. The Block V Virginias are emerging variants built with an 80-ft long mid-section added to support 28 additional Tomahawk missile tubes.
Called the Virginia Payload Modules, the extra section being built into Block V brings the Tomahawk fire-power capacity from 12 missiles up to 40.
The 900 nautical-mile range of the Tomahawk, coupled with the technological advances which now make it able to hit moving targets, help explain why the Navy has such interest in upticking production of the Block V boats, as the added firepower brings a paradigm-changing level of new tactical options for Commanders.
The Block V Virginia Payload Modules are designed specifically to help compensate for the loss in firepower associated with the expected retirement of four Guided Missile-firing Ohio-class boats.
Multiple Navy-commissioned industrial base assessments in recent years have shown that indeed it is possible for industry to “flex” its production and development capacity to substantially increase Virginia-class procurement.
Virginia-class submarines are in high demand for a number of crucial strategic and tactical reasons. Attack submarines, long thought of in a purely offensive attack capacity, are now also being used heavily for forward undersea reconnaissance missions given its advanced computing, sensing and reconnaissance capability enabled by the boats’ Large Aperture Bow sonar. With new quieting technologies, fly-by-wire computer navigational technology and longer-range, high-fidelity acoustic sensing, Virginia-class attack boats can patrol high-threat areas close to enemy coastline much less accessible to large surface combatants.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.