U.S. Navy's New Block V Virginia-Class Submarine: Best Stealth Sub Ever?

Kris Osborn

(Washington, D.C.) The Navy is revving up production of new weapons to massively increase attack options for its Virginia-class attack submarine, a move that is expected to change the mission scope for the boats and enable more extensive offensive strike possibilities, improving the Navy’s armed defense of its surface fleet.

The weapons increase, which has been progressing with prototyping for several years now, will lengthen the submarines with a new section to rev up the firepower from 12 to 40 on-board Tomahawk missiles. Speaking at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space Symposium earlier this year, Capt. Christopher Hanson, Program Manager, Virginia Class Submarine, indicated that formal construction of Block V will begin this year and continue through at least 2023. Most recently, the construction efforts have recently been extended through a "follow-on" deal between the Navy and BAE systems.

In addition to an increased weapons capacity, the Block 5 Virginia submarines will be equipped with a host of new mission-performing technologies;

Over the years, senior Navy weapons developers have explained some of the key areas of modernization focus; these include new coating materials to make the submarines stealthier, new antennas for longer-range, more accurate undersea surveillance missions and new “quieting” engine propulsion technology, among other things.

All of these technologies, in fact, already exist in the USS South Dakota attack submarine -- the most advanced submarine ever to be delivered to the Navy. The new boat, which is now operational, began as a prototype, test-bed platform to evolve these new technologies. What all of these USS South Dakota innovations also amount to is that, Hanson said, they are informing both Block V as well as current conceptual discussions now underway regarding a future generation Virginia-class submarine now only in early conceptual development - called Block VI. Block VI, according to Hanson, is not likely to begin to materialize until the mid 2020s.

“Block 5 has some additional equipment we are developing, which will be added to the USS South Dakota. Our expectation is that this is going to continue into Block V as we determine what Block VI will look like. We can’t say what exactly is going to be on a submarine 10-years from now, but we expect to continue that,” Hanson said.

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