The U.S. Navy has ordered another
eight Virginia class SSNs (nuclear attack submarines). Each boat will cost
$1.75 billion each. Actually, the price will go down, as production increases,
from one a year in 2009, to two a year after that. This means the U.S. has 19
Virginias in service (6), under construction (4) or on order.
States has three classes of SSN. The mainstay of the American submarine force
is still the 6,100 ton Los Angeles-class SSN. Sixty-two of these submarines
were built, 45 of which remain in front-line service, making it probably the
largest class of nuclear submarines that will ever be built. With four 21-inch
(533-millimeter) torpedo tubes, it carries twenty-six weapons (either the Mk 48
ADCAP, the UGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile, or the BGM-109 Tomahawk). The last
31 Los Angeles-class SSNs add the Mk 45 vertical-launch system (VLS), which
carries another twelve Tomahawks, making them closer to guided-missile submarines
Seawolf-class of nuclear attack submarines stopped at three from a planned
class of twenty-nine. The 8,600 ton Seawolf was designed as a super-submarine,
designed to fight the Soviet Navy at its height. Carrying fifty weapons, and
with eight 26-inch (660-millimeter) torpedo tubes, the Seawolf was designed for
maximum performance. It delivered, posting a top speed of over 60 kilometers an
hour, and remaining much quieter than
the Los Angeles-class submarines. Reportedly, it is quieter at twenty-five
knots than the Los Angeles-class submarines are at pier side.
cutback of the Seawolf to three ships, the Navy has gone with the
Virginia-class submarine. Less-capable than the Seawolf (it is much like the
Los Angeles-class attack subs, but with a lot of the more-advanced systems from
the Seawolf-class subs, particularly the quieting and sonar systems), it was
less expensive. The 7,700 ton Virginia-class submarines initially had a unit
cost of $2.1 billion, but found a way to get the first six built for a total
cost of $8.7 billion ($1.45 billion each). Like the Los Angeles-class, the
Virginia-class submarines will be improved as the class is built. The most
recent eight ordered are "Block III" boats, with over a hundred
design changes, most of the major, some (in the vertical launch system and the
bow sonar) are major.
France, Russia and China are all building new classes of SSNs that compete with
the Virginias. The 7,800 ton British Astute class boats comes closest. The U.S.
and Britain have long cooperated in the development of SSN technology. The moment, the U.S. has more of these
"third generation" SSNs in service and on the way.