New Details Revealed on Next-Gen Attack Submarine
Defense Dept. photo
The Navy envisions its next-generation nuclear-powered attack submarine to be the “ultimate apex predator,” according to officials.
Known as the SSN(X), the future platform will combine the Virginia-class submarine’s acoustics and sensors, the Seawolf-class’ payload and speed and the Columbia-class’ projected operational availability, said Rear Adm. Bill Houston, director of the undersea warfare division in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.
“It really needs to be ready for ... major combat operations,” he said during a panel discussion hosted by the Navy League in July. “It’s going to need to be able to go behind enemy lines and deliver that punch that is going to really, really establish our primacy.”
The team hopes to allow for plenty of time to conduct research, development, test and evaluation for the program, he said.
“It takes a significant amount of time and effort for that RDT&E to develop this apex predator,” he said. “It’s a daunting task, but the team is more than capable of doing it.”
The Navy wants to begin procuring the new class of subs beginning in fiscal year 2031, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Kevin Graney, president of General Dynamics Electric Boat, said his conversations with Navy leadership have included mentions of speed and acoustic superiority when it comes to the SSN(X). However, the requirements for the submarine have yet to be confirmed. Electric Boat is one of only two shipyards in the country capable of building nuclear-powered vessels, according to CRS. The other builder is Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding.
“We’re getting more and more in sync with each passing day, which I think is great,” Graney said.
Electric Boat has already invested $2 billion in its shipbuilding facilities to increase efficiency to ensure that it can work on multiple projects simultaneously, Graney said.
However, the future of the next-generation platform is not assured. A June memo from then-Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker suggested that the service may have to cut back on some of its next-generation platforms due to budget constraints.
Houston said the Navy has to carefully balance maintenance costs with upcoming plans to grow the submarine fleet.
“We need that private industry support to ensure that we have the maintenance capability … as we leverage into the future for our next submarine SSN(X),” he said.
Rear Adm. Jeffrey Jablon, commander of the submarine force for U.S. Pacific Fleet, said growing the attack submarine inventory will reduce pressure on the fleet, enabling vessels to undergo maintenance and be used for sailor training.
Battle Force 2045, a vision for the future Navy released under former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, called for the attack sub fleet to increase from approximately 50 boats to around 70.
“The size of the force only adds goodness to my job to prepare the force for major combat operations and also gives the combatant commanders more flexibility and operational management flexibility,” Jablon said.