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Upgraded, more powerful Virginia class submarines ordered

Warship Technology: January 2020Submarines

In early December 2019, the Naval Sea Systems Command awarded a nine-boat contract to General Dynamics Electric Boat for Virginia class nuclear powered attack submarines, of which three will be built with the newly-developed Virginia Payload Module (VPM).


The Virginia class Block V contract includes an option for an additional submarine which will also have the VPM if the option is exercised and the submarine built. The Block V contract is a US$22.2-billion fixed-price incentive fee, multi-year procurement contract for fiscal years 2019 through 2023.


The VPM adds four large payload tubes in a new hull section, increasing the submarines’ Tomahawk strike capacity from 12 to 40 missiles per boat.


This comes as the US Navy plans to retire four guided-missile submarines. The VPM, which was designed by Electric Boat, will also enable enhanced use of Special Operating Forces and allow the US Navy to bring onboard additional weapons, sensors and other special payloads. Apart from the VPM, Block V submarines will also have acoustic design changes to make them harder to detect.


The Block V contract continues the Virginia class’s teaming arrangement between prime contractor General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB) in Groton, Connecticut, and major subcontractor, Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding division (HII-NNS) in Newport News, Virginia.


“Block V Virginias and VPM are a generational leap in submarine capability,” claimed Programme Executive Officer for Submarines, Rear Admiral David Goggins. “These design changes will enable the fleet to maintain our nation's undersea dominance.”


Congressman Joe Courtney, Chairman of the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, said the long-awaited contract – the largest ever awarded by the US Navy – “provides stability and certainty to submarine shipbuilders, greater deterrent capability and increased workload for the industrial base.


“The submarines that will be built under this contract are not your normal Virginia class,” he said. “Each Block V VPM submarine is 90ft longer with a payload module that carries an additional price tag of US$500 million. As a result, each of the advanced submarines also requires more construction work than the previously-built versions.”