The next U.S. nuclear attack submarine must require less maintenance, be fast, quiet and packed with torpedoes, the service’s director of undersea warfare said on Thursday.
The SSN(X) nuclear attack boat will be more focused on the war in blue water than the multi-mission Virginia-class submarines, which are designed to operate closer to shore for missions like signals intelligence and special operation missions.
“Virginia remains the most capable multi-mission submarine in the world – bar none,” Rear Adm. Doug Perry, the director of the undersea warfare division on the chief of naval operations staff (OPNAV N97), said last week. “But we must maintain our undersea advantage by investing for future capabilities. And we know we need to start that work today to make sure we can deliver SSN(X) in time of need, and without lots of technical or schedule risk.”
In 2019, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the SSN(X) boats could cost up to $5.5 billion per hull. The current Virginia-class boats cost about $2.8 billion per hull, while the Block Vs with the 80-foot Virginia Payload Module will cost about $3.2 billion.
“The Navy indicates that the next-generation attack submarine should be faster, stealthier, and able to carry more torpedoes than the Virginia class—similar to the Seawolf-class submarine. CBO therefore assumed that the SSN(X) would be a Seawolf-sized SSN, which displaces about 9,100 tons when submerged, and would have an all-new design in keeping with the Navy’s description of it as a fast, lethal next-generation attack submarine,” the CBO wrote.
Before Virginia, the Navy developed the Sea Wolf-class to be a deep-diving submarine with a weapons room that can field about 50 torpedoes.
Perry said, in broad strokes, SSN(X) would take the heavily-armed Seawolf template, combine the stealthy technology developed for Virginia and keep the time in maintenance to a minimum.