US Navy’s Virginia-Class Block 5 Super Stealth
(quieting) Attack Submarines. The US Navy is arming a new fleet of attack
submarines with stealthy “quieting” systems, new weapons, next-gen sonar and additional
advanced undersea warfare technologies to enable its future boats to execute massive
land-attacks, perform “covert insertions” of forces and conduct reconnaissance missions
undetected. Many of these systems are in the process of
being refined on board the recently delivered USS South Dakota Virginia-Class attack submarine.
The boat is now poised to begin a vital part of the developmental process known as post-shakedown
availability next year – a series of key assessments and final steps necessary to the submarine
for major ocean combat. “Design modifications will be made and then
subsequently tested. Some of these design modifications are planned to be included in
the fifth block of Virginia-class submarines during new construction,” William Couch,
spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command, told Warrior in a statement.
Many of these innovations, which have been underway and tested as prototypes for many
years, are already operational as the USS South Dakota enters service, after being formally
delivered to the Navy earlier this year. The plan, Navy developers say, is to further
refine these technical advances before deploying what many call “the stealthiest submarines
ever built” in the early 2020s. While many details of these technical advances
are not available for security reasons, service technology developers have, in a general way,
told Warrior Maven some of the parameters; the innovations include quieting technologies
for the engine room to make the submarine harder to detect, a new large vertical array
and additional “quieting” coating materials for the hull.
Interestingly, a substantial increased emphasis in undersea reconnaissance for attack submarines,
above and beyond the historically associated “attack” missions, was cited in a 1997
National Research Council essay titled “Vision of Submarine Platforms for 2035.”
While the specific technical composition of new coating materials for the USS South Dakota
Virginia-Class many submarine weapons developers and engineers are known to use specially crafted
rubber tiles to absorb sonar “pings.” Also, propellers are typically designed to
produce thrust at slow speeds, to minimize cavitation and decrease any underwater signature,
a research paper from Livingston Research. The Virginia Payload Modules, slated to become
operational by the 2020s, will increase the Tomahawk missile firepower of the submarines
from 12 missiles up to 40, Navy weapons developers explain.
The submarines will have an additional (approximately 84 feet) section with four additional Virginia
Payload Tubes (VPTs), each capable of carrying seven Tomahawk cruise missiles, for a ship
total of 40 Tomahawks. The reason for the Virginia Payload Modules
is clear; beginning in the 2020s, the Navy will start retiring four large Ohio-class
guided-missile submarines able to fire up to 154 Tomahawk missiles each. This will result
in the Navy losing a massive amount of undersea fire power capability, Navy officials explained.
Overall, these advancements for the future submarine fleet are not only designed for
new boats being built – but possibly for those already in services.
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