The Navy’s next-generation attack submarine, dubbed SSN(X), is so secret, most details on it remain linked solely to what Navy brass will occasionally discuss in people — and even then, not much has been leaked.
What do we know?
According to a defense budget request, “Unlike the Virginia Class Submarine, which was designed for multi-mission dominance in the littoral, SSN(X) will be designed for greater transit speed under increased stealth conditions in all ocean environments, and carry a larger inventory of weapons and diverse payloads.
“While SSN(X) will be designed to retain multi-mission capability and sustained combat presence in denied waters, renewed priority of the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) mission against sophisticated threats in greater numbers will influence the design trade space.”
Speaking during a panel discussion in advance of the annual Sea-Air-Space exposition, Rear Adm. Bill Houston, director of the service’s undersea warfare requirements office gave the media a rare glimpse into the next-gen attack submarine, Justin Katz at Breaking Defense reported.
“We are looking at the ultimate apex predator for the maritime domain,” said Houston.“We’re taking what we already know how to do and combining it together.”
The admiral described a submarine that boasts the payload and speed of the Seawolf-class submarines, the acoustics and senors of Virginia-class and the operational availability and service life of the Columbia-class submarines.
“We’re confident that we’re going to be able to do that because we’ve already built that on those previous platforms, we know how to do that. We just have to mesh it together with one platform,” he continued.
Under the fiscal year 2020 long-range shipbuilding plan, the Navy would begin purchasing 42 new submarines starting in FY34.
A report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) stated the Navy believes the boat will cost approximately US$5.8 billion, while CBO projected the price tag will be closer to US$6.2 billion, Breaking Defense reported.
The unprecedented peacetime expansion and modernization of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, as well as the introduction of new Russian attack and missile submarines, has prompted the US Navy to begin development of SSN(X).
Like the original Virginia-class, the SSN(X) will remain primarily an anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare platform — and new, extremely long-range munitions could give the SSN(X) a huge boost, according to 19FortyFive.com.
Long-range torpedoes — with a range of 200+ miles — is one area that the Navy is reportedly exploring.
At those extremely long ranges, targeting data would likely need to be supplied by an aerial platform, potentially a submarine-launched UAV, or perhaps by a maritime patrol plane like the Navy’s P-8 Poseidon.
In this scenario, a submarine-launched long-range torpedo could complete its terminal phase-controlled or directed not by the submarine it launched from, but from the air — a first in naval warfare.
Sonar system and electromagnetic signature reduction technology has seen great advances over the past decades.
For example, Virginia class submarines do not have an opening in its pressure hull through which a conventional periscope raises and lowers.
Instead, the nation’s newest submarine class have photonics masts with high-resolution daylight cameras, light-intensification and infrared sensors, an infrared laser rangefinder, and special electronics to intercept enemy communications, National Interest reported.
Also, instead of traditional bladed propellers, the Virginia class has pump-jet propulsors to reduce the risks of cavitation and enable quieter operation. The boat also has fiber-optic fly-by-wire ship control, the AN/BYG-1 combat system and a nine-man lockout chamber for covert insertion of Special Operations forces.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday, has called for the development of a more aggressive attack submarine as a lynchpin of future fleet build-up.
“The advantage we have in the undersea is an advantage that we need to not only maintain, but we need to expand. I want to own the undersea for forever because I know that I can be really lethal from the undersea,” he said recently.
“When you think attack boat, you’re thinking, that can move around the timing and tempo of an operational commander’s need to deliver ordinance on target in a timely fashion. And so it’s got to be a fast sub as well.”
Sources: Breaking Defense, The War Zone, 19FortyFive.com, National Interest, Popular Mechanics, USNI News