class SSN has been around for some time now and it’s worth a quick review. The program was begun in the 1990’s as a replacement for the Virginia class and as a cheaper alternative to the Seawolf class. Construction began in the late 1990’s with around 16 subs completed so far. Construction is proceeding at a rate of two per year. Los Angeles
The SSN force peaked at 98 SSNs in 1987 and has been declining since. The current force goal is 48 SSNs, however, the Navy’s various 30 year plan projections show a dip to 42-43 in the late 2020’s and a sustained shortfall below the 48 goal from 2022 – 2034.
Here’s a quick dimensional comparison of the classes. Note the trend towards bigger boats just as we’ve observed with the SSBN(X)
replacement sub which is bigger than the Ohio despite having several fewer missile tubes. I’ve never seen a documented reason why the Ohio needs to be bigger than the preceeding classes. Virginia
Seawolf 353’ x 40’ 8 tubes / 50 torpedoes
construction program was beset by cost overruns early on. To be fair, that’s a characteristic of almost every Navy construction program. The Virginia’s were envisioned to be low cost alternatives to the Seawolf but it hasn’t turned out that way with the subs running around $2.5B in today’s dollars. Proceedings offers an article with the early cost history and states that the total obligation authority increased from $60B in the mid-1990’s to $90B+ in the mid 2000’s (4). Here’s a partial cost history and planned budget amounts (1). Virginia
1998 – 2011 14 $2.6B (average cost for the period)
2012 2 $2.6B
2013 2 $2.5B
2014 2 $2.7B
2015 2 $2.7B
2016 2 $2.8B
2017 2 $2.9B
2018 2 $3.0B
2019 2 ? VPM will be incorporated from this point on
CRS reports (3) that construction in FY14-FY18 will be performed under a Multi-Year Procurement (MYP) arrangement which is estimated by the Navy to produce 14% savings. However, looking at the planned construction costs versus previous years, there is no evidence of cost savings. Serial construction cost savings and MYP should be combined in FY14-FY18 for significant savings but the projected costs are not only not reduced, they’re anticipated to rise by $300M.
The Virginia Payload Module (VPM) is planned to be incorporated starting in 2019. The module consists of 4 tubes x 7 Tomahawk missiles = 28 missiles per sub. The VPM is the Navy’s response to losing the SSGNs which carry over 150 Tomahawks each. According to the Navy, it will require 15-20
to replace the Tomahawk capability of the 4 current SSGNs (yeah, the arithmetic suggests around 16 but Navy articles suggest around 20 – not sure what the exact thinking is). According to the CRS report (3), VPM will increase the Virginias construction cost by 15%-20% ($375M - $500M). Virginia
class is generally considered to be a success, there are some issues, to be sure. From the DOT&E report (2), we note comments about the Navy’s reluctance to conduct realistic testing. Virginia
“Because Navy security rules prevent collection of useful operational test data from
when conducting exercises with foreign ASW capable platforms, the Navy finished IOT&E and recent FOT&E without testing the Virginia class submarine against one of its primary threats, the foreign diesel electric submarine (SSK).” Virginia
No surprise there. We’ve noted in previous posts that realistic testing, in general, is a Navy shortcoming.
The overall assessment comes across as neutral or a slight improvement over the 688 class.
was not effective for some of the missions tested, it remains an effective replacement for the Virginia class submarine, providing similar mission performance and improved covertness.” Los Angeles
The report notes specific problems with the Wide Aperture Arrays.
“After completion of operational testing, the Navy issued software changes intended to address the severe performance problems observed with the Wide Aperture Array.”
“… the Navy should re-evaluate operational effectiveness on a submarine with a repaired Wide Aperture Array.”
DOT&E notes that problems are propagating into the fleet due to the Navy’s insistence on meeting schedules over identifying and fixing problems.
“DOT&E assesses that the late fix of the array’s deficiencies is a result of the Navy’s schedule-driven development processes, which fields new increments without completing adequate developmental testing.”
Further testing is recommended.
“Repeat the FOT&E event to determine
’s susceptibility to low-frequency active sonar and Virginia ’s ability to conduct ASUW in a low-frequency active environment. This testing should include a Virginia class submarine operating in the same environment to enable comparison with the Los Angeles class.” Virginia
In summary, the
program has exhibited poor cost performance although not too bad by Navy standards (of course, that’s a pretty low bar!). With respect to performance, the Virginia appears adequate and probably represents a modest improvement over the Virginia class. To be fair, actual performance data is nearly non-existent in the public domain. My vague impression is that the Los Angeles is to the Virginia what the JSF is to the Super Hornet – a modest improvement at a hefty price. Nevertheless, the Los Angeles is needed and reasonably meets the need at an acceptable, if disappointing, cost. Virginia
(1) Dept of Navy FY14 Budget Estimates, Shibuilding and Conversion, Apr 2013
E FY2012 Annual Report
(3) Congressional Research Service, “Navy
(SSN-774) Class Attack Virginia
Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress”, Ronald O'Rourke,
Naval Institute Proceedings, “The Sweet Smell of Acquisition Success”, RAdm. John Butler (USN, Ret.), June 2011 U.S.