Navy Set to Accept First Virginia-Class Block III Sub

Navy Set to Accept First Virginia-Class Block III Sub

Groton, Conn. – While floating partially submerged in icy waters along a dock at a General Dynamics’ Electric Boat facility here, the Navy’s first Block III Virginia-Class attack submarine is being readied for sea-trials, certifications and delivery.

As a key step prior to formally handing the boat over to the Navy to begin service, Electric Boat engineers and Navy professionals are testing the electronics, wiring, missile tubes and propulsion system on-board the submarine, among other things, said Kurt Hesch,  vice president of Virginia-Class submarines, Electric Boat.

The USS North Dakota, the first Block III Virginia-Class submarine slated for delivery, is expected to be handed over to the Navy for service by April of this year.  An April or May delivery is several months in advance of its contracted arrival in August, Navy and Electric Boat officials said.

“The fact we’re delivering early to the contract delivery date demonstrates we did the re-design right, something clearly demonstrated in North Dakota’s bow taking two fewer months and 8,000 fewer mandays to build than the previous ship, USS Minnesota,” Capt. Dave Goggins, program manager,  Virginia-Class submarines told Military​.com in a written statement.

Christened in November, the USS North Dakota will be the first of eight Block III Virginia-Class boats delivered to the Navy, submarines engineered with a series of technological upgrades and innovations compared to earlier Blocks I and II boats, Navy officials said. Blocks I and II, totaling 10 ships, have already been delivered to the Navy.

All eight Block III boats are being built under a $14 billion Navy deal with General Dynamics’ Electric Boat in December of 2008.

Hesch and Navy officials explained that the sea trials involve three phases. They begin with an alpha-phase which assesses the ship’s ability to dive to depth and conduct emergency surfacing operations. The alpha trials also assess the submarines propulsion plant and many of the technologies.

The bravo-phase tests the acoustics and combat systems and looks to correct any problems, followed by the Navy Board of Inspection and Survey trials where an independent board comes to inspect the boat prior to certification. The idea is to identify and address any potential issues with the boat well before it enters service with the Navy.

“The first trial is very rigorous. We are making sure we understand the water tightness and ensuring we understand the propulsion capabilities and understand the emergency systems are working. We take these incremental steps to make sure it is a fully functional and safe ship,” Hesch said in an interview with Military​.com

Sea trials can last anywhere for eight to 12 weeks depending upon what issues are discovered, Hesch said.

There is a lot of testing that can only happen once the ship is underwater, such as an assessment of the nuclear-reactor, propulsion plant and dive and stern planes, Hesch explained.

“You start off going to a shallow depth to make sure everything is good, then you kind of work your way through the systems, making sure the propulsion plant is working the way it should,” he said.

The sea trials will assess everything from the sonar systems and missile tubes to on-board electronics, command and control technologies, navigation systems, sensors and submarine computer systems.

“We know what we want to test. We go out there and it is a very carefully orchestrated agenda that we follow without waiver,” said Michael Nowak, USS North Dakota ship manager, Electric Boat.

Nowak said his crew will assemble the requisite repair materials and mechanics in the event that sea trials reveal the need for changes. Some of the dockside testing includes shooting launch vehicles from torpedo tubes in order to verify that the launch lines are completed and ready, Nowak added.

The Block III subs, now under construction, are being built with new so-called Virginia Payload Tubes designed to lower costs and increase missile-firing payload possibilities, Navy officials explained.

Instead of building what most existing Virginia-class submarines have — 12 individual 21-inch in diameter vertical launch tubes able to fire Tomahawk missiles — the Block III submarines are being built with two-larger 87-inch diameter tubes able to house six Tomahawk missiles each.

While primarily done to lower costs for the boat, this technical change will allow the possibility of future missiles and off-board sensors to be launched from the tubes, Navy officials said.

All Virginia-Class submarines are also engineered with a computerized fly-by-wire touchscreen control system wherein boat operators use a joystick to navigate, unlike the mechanical hydraulic controls uses on prior models.

The Block III boats also have a Large Aperture Bow array which places a conformal sonar system in the bow of the boat, Hesch said.

While all Block III submarines are currently under construction, planning for 10 Block IV Virginia Class submarines is already underway. A Navy, General Dynamics’ Electric Boat contract for 10 submarines is currently being finalized and is expected to be finished in coming months, Navy officials said.

General Dynamics’ Electric Boat says they are planning a series of additional innovations for Block IV, such as a new radar and oxygen system.  The Block IV deal will span years 2014 to 2018.

Hesch explained that one of the goals with Block IV is to increase the number of deployments for the submarines over their 33-year service life from 14 to 15.  This can primarily be accomplished by engineering the boat with longer-lasting parts and increasing the efficiency of the ship’s maintenance availability, Electric Boat officials said.

Also, for Block V construction, the Navy is planning to insert a new 70-foot-long section designed to house additional missile capability. In fact, the Navy’s Capabilities Development Document, or CDD, for what’s called the Virginia Payload Modules is finished up and approved by the Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council, Goggins said.

The Block V Virginia Payload Modules will add a new module or section of the submarine, increasing its Tomahawk missile firing capability from 12 to 40, Navy officials said. The idea is to have additional Tomahawk or other missile capability increased by 2026, when the SSGN Ohio-Class Guided Missile Submarines start retiring, he explained.

Hesch said that General Dynamics’ Electric Boat officials plan to work closely with the Navy to refine and solidify requirements in anticipation of doing early prototyping in 2015 and 2016.

The new module will add 28 missiles to the pressure hull section of the boat, using four large tubes each filled with 7 missiles. This will cause a slight, two-foot-long protrusion on the hull of the submarine to allow for a hatch to open, Hesch said.

In fact, the most recent Congressionally-passed budget deal approves $59 million for the Virginia Payload Modules, money which will move the developmental effort along.

The last six Virginia-class submarines have been delivered ahead of schedule, Navy officials said. The six submarines were Block I and Block II Virginia-class submarines.

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I am heartened that the Virginia Payload Module funding finally went through, to increase the missile count carried by these excellent boats.

Originally funded in the POTUS’s defense budget, the HoR initially removed funding — only for common sense to reveal itself at long last (perhaps China’s increasing belligerence had something to do with it, along with the impending loss of the SSGN/Ohio capability) and funding finally being approved.

While they don’t have the massive load carried by the Ohio’s, the VPM seems to be a reasonable compromise, as none of the new SSBN/Ohio replacements are being designated for the SSGN role.

If these boats are finishing a total of 14 or 15 deployments over their life, then the deployments must be terribly long. The longest I ever experienced was an 84 days (interrupted only to let dignitaries and vendor technicians leave before heading out for the long term). Those in the engine room went the full 84 days without seeing sunlight. With the advanced propulsion systems (including the advanced nuclear reactors), one can imagine how long the deployments could be. I hope the crew still eats as well as crews did in the past. That’s a long time to be gone. Best wishes to the crew members and their families.

BZ Navy bubble heads, a well run program with excellent results, now if only the black shoes can take a lesson here and get rid of the piece of c r a p the LCS

But I’m beginning to think that the airdales are getting smart-they seemed to be moving slowly away from that other piece of c r a p the F-35

Glad something is going write for the US Navy on least one program. Its too bad their going not going be able to equal to the retiring Ohio SSGN when Block V shows up. However, if they have enough boats, it will be better tactically if they need not worry of lose of capacity if a single boat is unable to do a operation.

Well I served on a 688 out of Guam and the longest deployment we did was about 4 months. From what I remember the san diego boats could get up to 6 if they really got screwed.

Love that beautiful lady. Being a ND native and an ex boat sailor I want to see her on her way.Bill

Not being a navy guy, what determines the life time of a sub? The amount of depth dives, hull expansion/contraction or other stress. Just a question many folks would want to know.

So, this sub looks just like the Russian submarine called the “Black Hole” and the new Chinese Stealth Bomber looks exactly like ours. What are the odds?

Submarines are basically all look almost identical simply because there is no real compromise in shape. The subs are made for the exact environment they are in. Longer thinner hulls are used more now because they are easier to push through the water and don’t have to worry about SLBM to balloon their shape.

Subs like the Typhoon were so wide because they actually have multiple pressure hulls.

The life of the boat is determined by two things. One: The reactor life, and Two: The pressure hull is certified for a number of years. The reactor can be refueled and its life can be extended and the pressure hull can be re-certified after a lot of maintenance and testing, both of these actions are extremely challenging and costly. Average life of a submarine (reactor and pressure hull) is 30+ years.

Great Job Navy. God Bless You.

I remember years ago Electric Boat or maybe the Navy was considering a more “streamlined” sail similar to some of the old Soviet classes for later Blocks of the Virginia class. There are advantages and disadvantages to such a configuration but I wonder if it is still being considered.

You talk to much. Need to think about your worldwide audience when addressing issues. Some questions are better off left unaddressed. B-58 hustler might as well have an ID of “Third world Terrorist probing for Info”.

No disrespect to B-58 intended if you are a legitimate reader or one of legitimate curiosity.

Wishing the best to all of our armed services.

The crush depth of a submarine is classified. The service life of its power plant and the boat itself are not. In fact the Navy publishes these figures every year to determine how much money it needs to buy more ships years from now.

Very funny this article, so few comments. I can only guess because this program is working. The product works, is on budget and ahead of schedule. It would be great if more of our programs had so few comments.

I’m kind of torn by not having as many missiles in these as the Ohio SSGNs. Is more missiles better, or less missiles from more platforms better? Probably something that would need some serious war gaming to answer and you’d probably never get a good answer. At the end of the day I’m ok with it because while we may lose total number of TLAMs we gain attack subs.

I wish the pragmatic reality would filter through. It amazes me there are all these articles and white papers on A2AD and debates over how to penetrate contested sea space and someone can’t just yell in that room and say “Hey! More subs”. We are pissing away American coin on boondoggles like the LCS and the F35 and accepting overrun after overrun on more carriers, when we have a program like this ahead of schedule, on budget, capable, expandable, and we keep all the other crap we have on life support. Bottom line is the USN would be fine with a couple less CSGs, moderately ok tacair, and about 3 of these a year under production.

I dont think that was classified information, but capabilites shound never be discussed.

The Virginia has failed or ‘not been tested due to equipment not ready for test’ most of it’s low frequency passives and has yet to look at ANY of the actives. There is no comparative analysis against the LA class which we already know are better under-ice boats due to everything from anomalous performance of keel sonder to poor control over boat condensates and inadequate deployment gear on the tail.
The ARCI and BYG have shown frequency gaps and fuzzy processing on target tracks and the boat in general lacks good end to end proof of it’s weapons systems.
Like all kettle boats which don’t have natcirc sized hulls, shallow water where it can’t play the thermocline, it’s about as silent as a wheezy elephant locked in a room full of bubble rap and thumbtacks.
And for all that everyone claims that these ships are _The Answer_ to A2AD, let me remind you that the Black Ditch is less than 100nm across and 300ft deep and as such is a natural position to look towards a UUCV based on long endurance PEM designs.
Hunting in sprint-coast packs with active sonar and killsprint speeds upwards of 50 knots, they can be 100 million each and still be cheap to trade, 10:1 for a nuke boat.
Finally, the reality is that, however useful it may be in beating up on the short bus crowd like Gadhafi, the TLAM is massively dated in it’s signature performance, slow to respond to TCTs and will only become easier and easier to kill as things like AHM/APS technology is adapted to wide area route denial and joined by SSLs in the latter part of _this decade_.
We need to test this boat vs. a PEM equipped SSK before we go assuming that FOT&E is finally got a working software and quietening standard. We need to abandon NSW/DDS as too damn dangerous for an asset this valuable.
And we need to develop a followon, 1,500nm capable, aeroballistic (ARRMD/Fast Hawk/RATTLRS) type weapon to keep us well and truly out of the enemy’s bryar patch.
Virginia is less an exercise in good design than another ‘work in progress’ example of concurrency run amok.


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