In the past two months, Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite has announced the names of three future Virginia class attack submarines. In a departure from the established convention, which the lead boat in the class had set, all three will be named after fish. The Navy’s boss says these monikers, all of which honor past submarines, will help the members of its Silent Service restore a link to important history and heritage after decades of sailing in boats primarily named after U.S. states and cities.
On Nov. 17, 2020, Braithwaite had revealed that two future Virginia class submarines, with the hull numbers SSN-805 and SSN-806, would be named USS Tang and USS Wahoo, respectively. The month before, he had announced that the forthcoming SSN-804 would receive the name USS Barb. All of these will be Block V boats with the additional Virginia Payload Module (VPM), which has four large-diameter launch tubes that will be capable of firing various weapons and potentially deploying other systems, including unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV).
As already noted, the Navy’s established naming convention for Virginia class boats is to name them after U.S. states. When it came to attack submarines, before that there had been the Los Angeles class, all but one of which, the USS Hyman G. Rickover, originally to be called USS Providence, were named after American cities.
In between those two classes, the Navy also acquired three Seawolf class attack submarines. The service had originally planned to buy 29 of these highly advanced boats, but growing costs together with defense spending drawdowns after the end of the Cold War led to that purchase being severely truncated. The first-in-class USS Seawolf, which was commissioned in 1997, is named after a fish, but the trio does not follow any real naming convention. The other two are the USS Connecticut, which presaged the Navy’s naming decision with regards to the Virginia class, and the USS Jimmy Carter.