Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Why Russia Fears Sweden’s Deadly Submarines

Sebastien Roblin, National Interest
16 July 2018

Another important features is a special ‘multi-mission’ portal for deploying special forces and underwater vehicles, a much-in demand feature for contemporary submarines. Situated between the torpedo tubes in the nose, the portal can also be used to recover the AUV-6 underwater drone, which can be launched from the torpedo tubes. The A26 would typically belly down on the ocean floor when employing the portal—a maneuver which could also aid it in escaping detection.
For decades, submarines came in two discrete flavors: traditional diesel-electric submarines that need to surface every day or two to recharge their noisy, air-breathing diesel engines, and nuclear-powered submarines that could quietly hum along under the sea at relatively high speeds for months at a time thanks to their nuclear reactors.
The downside to the nuclear-powered variety, of course, is that they cost many times the price of a comparable diesel submarines and require nuclear propulsion technology, which may not be worth the trouble for a country only interested in defending its coastal waters. A diesel submarine may also run more quietly than a nuclear submarine by turning off its engines and running on batteries—but only for a very short amount of time. Still, there remains a performance gap in stealth and endurance that many countries would like to bridge at an affordable price.
One such country was Sweden, which happens to be in a busy neighborhood opposite to Russian naval bases on the Baltic Sea. Though Sweden is not a member of NATO, Moscow has made clear it might take measures to ‘eliminate the threat,’ as Putin put it, if Stockholm decides to join or support the alliance. After a Soviet Whiskey-class submarine ran aground just six miles away from a Swedish naval base in 1981, Swedish ships opened fire on suspected Soviet submarines on several occasions throughout the rest of the 1980s. More recently, Russia has run an exercise simulating a nuclear attack on Sweden and likely infiltrated Swedish territorial waters with least one submarine in 2014.
Back in the 1960s, Sweden had begun developing a modernized version of the Stirling engine, a closed-cycle heat conversion engine first developed in 1818. This was first used to power a car in the 1970s, then the Swedish ship-builder Kockums successfully retrofitted a Stirling engine to power a Swedish Navy A14 submarine Nacken in 1988. Because the Stirling burns diesel fuel using liquid oxygen stored in cryogenic tanks rather than an air-breathing engine, it can quietly cruise underwater at low speeds for weeks at a time without having to surface.
Kockums went on to build three Gotland-class submarines in the late 1990s, the first operational submarines designed with Air-Independent Propulsion systems. The Gotland became famous for sinking a U.S. aircraft carrier in a 2005 military exercise; its characteristics and operational history are further described in this earlier article. Stirling AIP technology has subsequently been incorporated into numerous Japanese and Chinese submarines, while Germany and France developed more expensive fuel-cell and steam-turbine based AIP submarines instead.
Sweden, meanwhile, converted her four late-80s vintage Västergötland diesel-electric submarines between 2003 and 2005 to use Stirling AIP engines—refits which involved cutting the submarines in two and stretching them out from forty-eight to sixty meters! Two of these submarines were re-designated the Södermanland-class, while the other two were sold to Singapore. The latter Archer-class boats are climatized for operations in warmer waters and boast improved navigation and fire control systems.
Enter the A26: Sweden’s Ghostly Super Sub of the Future—On Paper
Sweden intends to retire its Södermanland boats between 2019 and 2022. Since the 1990s, Kockums had been bouncing around a concept for a next-generation AIP submarine designated the A26 to succeed the Gotland-class, but encountered numerous setbacks. Stockholm canceled A26 procurement in 2014, and at one point there was even a raid by the Swedish government attempting to confiscate blueprints from the German parent firm Thyssen-Krupp which was confronted by company security.
Since then, Kockums has been purchased by the Swedish firm Saab. Finally, in June 2015, Swedish defense minister Sten Tolgfors announced Stockholm was finally committing to procure two A26s at a price equivalent to $959 million—less than a fifth the unit cost of a nuclear-powered Virginia class submarine of the U.S. Navy.
The A26 has also been marketed abroad at various times to Australia, India, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland, but so far without success, due to competition from French and German AIP submarine-makers and an apparent reluctance from smaller European states to commit to submarine purchases at this time.
Kockums claims the A26 will achieve new levels of acoustic stealth thanks to a new ‘GHOST’ (Genuine Holistic Stealth) technology which involves acoustic damping plates, flexible rubber mountings for hardware, a less reflective hull with a lower target strength, and degaussing to lower the submarine’s magnetic signature. Supposedly, the A26’s hull will also be unusually resilient to underwater explosions.
The Swedish firm has unveiled concept art depicting a submarine with a ‘chinned’ sail, X-shaped tail fins for greater maneuverability in rocky Baltic waters, and four 533-millimeter torpedo tubes can fire both heavyweight torpedoes, back up by two 400-millimeter tubes, all of which would use wire-guided torpedoes. The vessel’s four Stirling engines apparently allow allowing
higher sustainable underwater cruising speed of 6 to 10 knots.
Kockums has emphasized the new designs’ modularity, which should lower development costs for specialized variants, such as one configuration accommodating up to eighteen Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles in a vertical launch system. This is a feature likely meant to appeal to Warsaw, which would like cruise-missile equipped submarines.
Another important features is a special ‘multi-mission’ portal for deploying special forces and underwater vehicles, a much-in demand feature for contemporary submarines. Situated between the torpedo tubes in the nose, the portal can also be used to recover the AUV-6 underwater drone, which can be launched from the torpedo tubes. The A26 would typically belly down on the ocean floor when employing the portal—a maneuver which could also aid it in escaping detection.
Kockums is now marketing three different versions of the A26. The ‘medium’ model intended for Swedish service would measure 63-meters long and displace roughly 2,000 tons surfaced. It would typically have a crew of around twenty-six, and a maximum endurance of forty-five days, including eighteen to thirty days (sources differ) submerged, generally sustaining a speed of 10 knots. This endurance, including a typical range of 6,500 miles, should give it capability for operations in the Atlantic Ocean—in contrast to the Gotlands which are not designed for transoceanic deployments.
There is also a smaller 51-meter ‘Pelagic’ version for short-range patrols, and an Extended Range model stretched to eighty meters long and displacing 4,000 tons that might appeal to operators in the Pacific Ocean due to its 10,000-mile range and 50-day endurance.
Sweden’s two A26s should be completed between 2022 and 2024, at which point it will be possible to gauge whether they can meet their ambitious performance parameters. In general, advancements to AIP submarines are allowing countries across the globe to acquire capable short and medium-range submarines at an affordable price.

China Building Eight Submarines For Pakistan

Ali Ahmed, The Business Recorder
17 July 2018

China is building eight submarines for Pakistan to strengthen its ally's naval and under water capabilities.
According to the local media, under the Project Hangor, China's shipbuilding industry will soon give these submarines to Pakistan. The acquisition of new submarines from China is a part of Pakistan's effort to increase its capabilities in underwater warfare.
The new addition will increase Pakistan's submarine arsenal to 18, while at present the country possess 10 submarines. The latest development comes when China and Pakistan are busy building the strategic $50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Just days ago, Pakistan launched two indigenously-built satellites from China's Jiuquan Satellite Centre to meet its imagery requirements in land mapping and natural disaster management.
Pakistan Remote Sensing Satellite-1 (PRSS-1) and Pakistan Technology Evaluation Satellite-1A (PakTES-1A) were launched through Long March-2C rocket, at 0857 hours (PST), from a satellite centre located in Northwest China.
The 1,200 kg PRSS-1 and the 285 kg PakTES-1A satellites would operate at an altitude of 640 km and 610 km, respectively and would also enable the country in agriculture classification and assessment, urban and rural planning and water resource management.

Inside America's Aging Nuclear Missile Submarines

Sydney J. Freedberg Jr, Breaking Defense
16 July 2018

Imagine drifting off to sleep underwater in a tiny room with eight other people, with nuclear missile tubes on either side.
Need a drink now? Too bad, because, while in theory the skipper can authorize alcohol, in practice he never will. You can eat canned asparagus every day though, if you want, thanks to a quirk in Navy nutrition regulations. (It's unclear how much of it ends up compacted into cubes with the other garbage, weighted down, and dumped to the ocean floor). Oh, and as another health benefit, even though you live next to a mobile nuclear reactor, you get less radiation than the average American simply because you spend months at a time without seeing the sun.
Sounds less than homey? Well, apparently, you get used to it. That's according to the crew of the ballistic missile submarine USS Tennessee (SSBN-734), homeported here in King's Bay and currently tied up pierside for a refit.
Business Executives for National Security The missile compartment of an Ohio-class nuclear submarine. The entrances to the crews' sleeping quarters are to the left and right, reached by walking between two missile tubes.
There's an armed sailor in body armor standing guard on deck, plus trained dolphins and sea lions on watch for hostile divers. (Yes, really). When I and other attendees at a nuclear security conference here (courtesy of the DC-base Mitchell Institute and the local Camden Partnership) got the rare opportunity to tour a boomer, we had to leave our cellphones, cameras, and all other electronics behind before we boarded the Navy bus, which had been swept by security personnel and dogs. Even so, they never let us near the sub's reactor - but the front end of the boat was intriguing enough.
Inside the sub, the already cramped passageways were cluttered with temporary tubing. Every flat surface seemed covered by machinery being meticulously disassembled by several sailors, often standing with their backs nonchalantly to the two rows of 12 sequoia-thick silos that dominate the hull. The crew had even installed a temporary spiral staircase in their largest hatch to help them hustle in and out of the boat with supplies and spare parts. (Normally there're no stairs aboard a sub, just ladders).
Just to turn up the heat a little, literally, the sub's air conditioning had been turned off temporarily earlier in the day, while the boat moved berths. The reactivated A/C was still struggling to purge the July-in-Georgia heat from what is, after all, a big black metal tube with only a few hatches for ventilation. The only cool air aboard was right around the oxygen generator.
The generator looks rather like Hell's own espresso machine, but it actually splits ordinary water into oxygen - it's the only thing that keeps the crew from suffocating underway - and hydrogen (vented offboard with the carbon dioxide), which is an endothermic (heat-draining) reaction. But while I was wilting just walking around, the sailors I saw at work seemed undaunted.
Which is busier, I asked one sailor: Being out on patrol, or being in port for a refit? Refit is, he said, "by far." There's a lot of work to do in 35 days at home being heading out to sea for two or three months. Each sub actually has two crews of over 150 each, Blue and Gold, who alternate to ease the strain on sailors and families. Even so, a career submariner like the skipper of the Tennessee, Commander Paul Seitz, spends an estimated six years of his life underwater.
An Aging & Hard-Worked Force
So nuclear submarines are used hard every year, and this one is 32 years old. In fact, Tennessee was the first SSBN homeported at King's Bay and the first boat to test-fire the Trident D5 missile. The other 13 Ohio-class nuclear missile subs stationed here and in Bangor, Washington were all commissioned between 1981 and 1997, and the US hasn't built another SSBN since. (The newer Seawolf and Virginia submarines are relatively small attack boats that don't carry nuclear missiles). The Navy's now hustling to design and build the $128 billion replacement program, the Columbia class, with no slack left in the schedule.
Even so, Tennessee and her sisters will have to stay in service 42 years apiece before they can be replaced in the 2030s. The land-based Minuteman ICBM, the B-1 and B-2 bombers, and the Air-Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) will also need replacements about the same time. The force also needs upgrades to aging nuclear warheads, Trident missiles, and the nuclear command, control, and communications network (NC3), as well as refurbishment of crumbling Energy Department buildings that in some cases date back to the Manhattan project. All that will put tremendous pressure on the Pentagon budget.
"Everything in that program delivers just on time to replace the old stuff," said Gen. John Hyten, the four-star Air Force officer in charge of Strategic Command, to the nuclear weapons conference here.
"Every leg of the triad is up against the red line in terms of recapitalization," agreed Rear Adm. John W. Tammen, director of undersea warfare (N97) on the Navy staff. "The green-eyeshade people have repeatedly delayed
and delayed each of the programs. (Now), the bottom line is there's no additional margin for construction and delivery of Columbia." To reduce the risk, defense contractors have already started building missile tubes - some of which will go to the Royal Navy's SSBN program - as well as a full-up prototype of the new design's electric drive.
Is there any way, I asked, to squeeze some more years out of the Ohios, originally designed to last 30 years? "We have sharpened the pencils to get to 42 years," he said. "I don't think there's anything past 42."
So "we have to get Columbia done on time, (and) we are on plan to do that," Tammen emphasized. "With the current leadership designating the strategic mission as DoD's No. 1 mission, the resources are there."
In the meantime, there's some money to keep upgrading the existing equipment, but very selectively. So, like much of the US military, the sub is a strange mix of cutting-edge and vintage. There are plasma screens on the wall of the galley, the petty officer's "Goat Locker," and the captain's office/stateroom/tiny cell, that display the condition of the sub in real time, all the time once underway.
But a lot of technology dates from the 1980s when the boat was built, including key components of the fire control system for the ballistic missiles. It turns out "clunky but tried and tested" beats "new hotness that's mostly been debugged" when you're working with nuclear weapons. And no, the crew told us, one man can't launch the missiles: It takes at least two people turning keys at once in two different parts of the ship.
Saying "Thank You"
Does the crew suffer any existential dread from living, working, and sleeping next to enough megatonnage to kill millions of people? Apparently not. None of these submarines has ever fired a shot in anger as opposed to testing, and the sailors naturally prefer it that way. The whole point of a deterrent is, if it's successful, you never have to use it. And while America's land-based silos are visible to orbiting satellites, and its strategic bombers often make high-profile flights abroad to assure allies and unnerve adversaries, the submarines' success lies in never being seen.
So it's easy to overlook the service of US Navy submariners, or for the matter the Air Force missileers who go to work every day in bunkers deep underground, standing ready for the order we all pray will never come. And this weight is on some very young shoulders.
Gen. Hyten recalled how one junior lieutenant, working at Malmstrom missile base in Montana on her first assignment in the Air Force, asked how he responded when people derided the work ethic of millennials.
"What I say is, if you want to see our country, get on my plane and come with me," Hyten said, voice breaking with emotion. "Come with me to Malmstrom, come to me to Kings Bay, and I'll introduce you to the millennials that do the job every day - and you will find that they're exactly the same as they were 20 years ago, exactly the same as they were 40 years ago."
"They love this country. They want to defend this country. They go to work every day," Hyten said. "They're amazing - they're smarter than we were, by far. They get motivated differently so you have to lead them differently, but their passion is just the same."
It was at this point in his answer to the young lieutenant, Hyten said, that he saw a tear start down her cheek. "It's pretty awesome that a missileer whose job is to sit on top of a nuclear weapon, a Minuteman III, takes her job that seriously," he said. "Just saying thank you means a lot."

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Is World Ready For An Undersea Missile? Supercavitating Torpedo Offers Speed of 230 Miles Per Hour

These undersea missiles achieve their speed essentially by encasing the torpedo inside a bubble.

John Keller, Military Aerospace
19 June 2018

Military forces throughout the world are obsessed, it seems, with speed. Jet aircraft, the missile, even the lowly bullet typically go faster than the speed of sound. Everywhere is an obsession with speed except in undersea warfare. In fact, today's most advanced militaries are working on so-called hypersonic missiles that eventually could travel through the air at about seven times the speed of sound, or 5,320 miles per hour.
That kind of speed means a hypersonic missile could hit a target 100 miles away in little more than a minute -- not much time for countermeasures and evasive maneuvers. It's little wonder that speed is a top priority among military weapons developers.
Not everything military, though, is blazingly fast. Main battle tanks can roll at about 60 miles per hour over gentle terrain. A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter cruises at about 174 miles per hour. A submerged attack submarine can go about 50 miles per hour flat-out -- we don't really know. These relatively slow systems typically don't have the notoriety of the fast ones. Still, they typically can shoot weapons that are very fast, like smart munitions, rockets, and soon even laser weapons.
How is it that the obsession for speed hasn't extended into the realm of undersea warfare? Submarines aren't too fast, but they shouldn't be. Their job is to lurk
silently and undetected until that fateful moment when they launch a missile or torpedo.
The torpedo -- signature weapon of the submarine -- isn't very fast, either. The U.S. MK 48 torpedo achieves a top speed of about 55 knots, or 63 miles per hour. That's about as fast as a mini van full kids in the slow lane of the freeway ... not exactly the best comparison when describing a formidable modern weapon. It certainly pales in comparison to missiles and rockets.
But what if a torpedo could move at 200 knots? That's 230 miles per hour -- not even close to supersonic, but still a mind-boggling speed underwater. A 200-knot torpedo essentially would be an underwater missile. Is this even possible, and if so, why don't we hear more about it?
Well, the underwater missile is real. It's called the supercavitating torpedo. The Russians have built one called the The VA-111 Shkval, which can reach underwater speeds in excess of 200 knots. Iran reportedly has developed a variant of the Russian Shkval called the Hoot. The German navy is credited with developing the Superkavitierender Unterwasserlaufkörper supercavitating torpedo, but it never went into production. The U.S. Navy is said to be toying with supercavitating torpedo technology.
These undersea missiles achieve their speed essentially by encasing the torpedo inside a bubble to eliminate the water's hydrodynamic drag. Once inside this bubble, and free of the water's drag, a rocket engine shoots the munition through the water faster than a NASCAR racer.
Supercavitation, by the way, refers to phenomenon in which water is forced around an object like a ship’s propeller at high speeds. This causes the pressure around the object's trailing edge to below the water's vapor pressure, causing bubbles. This is bad for modern submarine propellers, because it creates noise that can enable an enemy to detect it. It's good, though, when attempting to shoot objects like torpedoes through the water at high speeds.
So why haven't supercavitating torpedoes come to revolutionize war at sea? It seems this technology also causes big problems with torpedo guidance, control, and precise targeting.
Conventional torpedoes steer themselves toward their targets with control surfaces that, in the water, act like an airplane's wings, rudder, and elevator in the air.
One big problem with supercavitating torpedoes is they can't stick control surfaces outside their protective bubble, lest the bubble bursts. No control surface contact with the water means no control of the torpedo; it goes in a stright line, period. This means they're prone to missing their targets.
Modern torpedoes home in on their targets with passive and active sonar. They must be able to hear the sound emitting from their targets, as well as a return signal from a sonar ping.
Supercavitating torpedoes don't have this advantage because they're really, REALLY LOUD -- too loud to hear much of anything. From a guidance standpoint it can't tell the difference between an enemy ship or submarine, and a rock formation.
So a supercavitating torpedo is fast, but it's also can't steer very well, and can't hear its target. Is it a viable weapon today? That's questionable. It's only been tested, and never used in combat.
All that could change, though, once someone figures out an efficient way to maneuver them, and enable them to home-in on their targets. Then they will be formidable weapons, and that day may not be too far off.

Israel's Navy Tests New Long-Range Heavy Torpedo

Anna Ahronheim, Jerusalem Post
19 June 2018

The Israel Navy successfully completed a test of a new torpedo system set to enter operational use on Israel’s submarine fleet, a senior Navy officer announced Tuesday.
The trial of the heavy torpedo, which was carried out on Monday night against targets simulating enemy ships, was the final test of a series of pre-planned experiments to test the system’s competence.
“The implementation of the system constitutes a significant step in the strengthening of the Navy and in maintaining the superiority of the IDF in the naval arena,” the senior officer said, adding that the new torpedo systems have more accurate attack capabilities and can reach farther distances.
According to the senior Navy officer, the new state-of-the-art long-range versatile heavy torpedo can reach targets dozens of kilometers away-both on land and underwater- and is set to become the submarine fleet’s main missile.
The digitalization of the weapons system (as opposed to the older analog systems) will also the Navy to continuously upgrade its software.
Israel is highly dependent on the sea with over 90% of Israel’s imports arriving via the sea and while the country’s navy is relatively small compared to other IDF corps, it has a significant amount of territory to protect since the expansion of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) from 40 miles to 150 miles from shore years ago.
While there is no hermetic protection on the sea, due to the threat posed by Hezbollah’s arsenal of Grad rockets and other longer-range projectiles, the navy has upgraded its weapons and defensive systems on its entire combat fleet.
“The naval arena is becoming very complex and this new torpedo preserves Israel’s freedom of action and the secrecy of Israel’s submarines which are an indispensable strategic tool for state security,” the senior officer said.
Israel’s small but deadly submarine fleet has been very active in recent months, the first naval officer said, explaining that 60% of the hours that the fleet has been active were operational hours.
Israel currently has three Dolphin-class submarines and two Dolphin 2-class submarines with another one expected to be delivered later this year. According to Jane’s Defence Weekly, a magazine reporting on military and corporate affairs, the first batch of the three new submarines are expected to be operational in 2030.
The new submarines being built by Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) are expected to replace the older Dolphins at a cost of combined price of NIS 5 billion ($1.3 billion).

Navy Columbia-Class Submarine Quieting "Electric Drive" - Stealthiest Sub Ever?

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven
18 June 2018

Columbia-Class is a new generation of submarines intended to quietly patrol the undersea realm around the world.
The Navy has now issued at least one-fourth of the design work and begun further advancing work on systems such as a stealthy "electric drive" propulsion system for the emerging nuclear-armed Columbia-Class ballistic missile submarines by 2021.
“Of the required design disclosures (drawings), 26-percent have been issued, and the program is on a path to have 83-percent issued by construction start,” Bill Couch, spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command, told Warrior Maven.
The Columbia class is to be equipped with an electric-drive propulsion train, as opposed to the mechanical-drive propulsion train used on other Navy submarines.
In today’s Ohio-class submarines, a reactor plant generates heat which creates steam, Navy officials explained. The steam then turns turbines which produce electricity and also propel the ship forward through “reduction gears” which are able to translate the high-speed energy from a turbine into the shaft RPMs needed to move a boat propeller.
“The electric-drive system is expected to be quieter (i.e., stealthier) than a mechanical-drive system,” a Congressional Research Service report on Columbia-Class submarines from earlier this year states.
Designed to be 560-feet– long and house 16 Trident II D5 missiles fired from 44-foot-long missile tubes, Columbia-Class submarines will use a quieting X-shaped stern configuration.
The “X”-shaped stern will restore maneuverability to submarines; as submarine designs progressed from using a propeller to using a propulsor to improve quieting, submarines lost some surface maneuverability, Navy officials explained.
Navy developers explain that electric-drive propulsion technology still relies on a nuclear reactor to generate heat and create steam to power turbines. However, the electricity produced is transferred to an electric motor rather than so-called reduction gears to spin the boat's propellers.
The use of an electric motor brings other advantages as well, according to an MIT essay written years ago when electric drive was being evaluated for submarine propulsion.
Using an electric motor optimizes use of installed reactor power in a more efficient way compared with mechanical drive submarines, making more on-board power available for other uses, according to an essay called “Evaluation and Comparison of Electric Propulsion Motors for Submarines,” author Joel Harbour says that on mechanical drive submarine, 80-percent of the total reactor power is used exclusively for propulsion.
“With an electric drive submarine, the installed reactor power of the submarine is first converted into electrical power and then delivered to an electric propulsion motor. The now available electrical potential not being used for propulsion could easily be tapped into for other uses,” he writes.
Research, science and technology work and initial missile tube construction has been underway for several years. One key exercise, called tube-and-hull forging, involves building four-packs of missile tubes to assess welding and construction methods. These structures are intended to load into the boat’s modules as construction advances.
“Early procurement of missile tubes and prototyping of the first assembly of four missile tubes are supporting the proving out of production planning,” Couch said.
While the Columbia-Class is intended to replace the existing fleet of Ohio-Class ballistic missile submarines, the new boats include a number of not-yet-seen technologies as well as different configurations when compared with the Ohio-Class. The Columbia-Class will have 16 launch tubes rather than the 20 tubes current on Ohio boats, yet the Columbias will also be about 2-tons larger, according to Navy information.
The Columbia-Class, to be operational by the 2028, is a new generation of technically advanced submarines intended to quietly patrol the undersea realm around the world to ensure second-strike ability should the US be hit with a catastrophic nuclear attack.
Formal production is scheduled for 2021 as a key step toward fielding of a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines to serve all the way into and beyond the 2080s.
General Dynamics Electric Boat has begun acquiring long-lead items in anticipation of beginning construction; the process involves acquiring metals, electronics, sonar arrays and other key components necessary to build the submarines.
Both the Pentagon and the Navy are approaching this program with a sense of urgency, given the escalation of the current global threat environment. Many senior DoD officials have called the Columbia-Class program as a number one priority across all the services.
“The Columbia-Class submarine program is leveraging enhanced acquisition authorities provided by Congress such as advanced procurement, advanced
construction and multi-year continuous production of missile tubes,” Couch added.

Contract Awarded for US Submarines’ Expanded Launch Capacity

Steven Stashwick, The Diplomat
14 June 2018

BAE Systems has been awarded a contract to build Virginia Payload Modules (VPM) that will more than triple the number of cruise missiles future Virginia-class attack submarines can carry, while providing them the flexibility to accommodate a range of future weapons still under development.
The Virginia-class is the U.S. Navy’s most modern nuclear-powered attack submarine, built to replace the aging Cold War-era Los Angeles-class attack submarines. The first ten Virginias were built with twelve individual vertical launch tubes in their bow section for launching Tomahawk cruise missiles. Blocks III and IV of the class, which will eventually comprise eighteen boats, replace the twelve individual vertical launch tubes with two large-diameter tubes that accommodate round canisters that hold six Tomahawk missiles each, simplifying the reloading process.
The new modules will effectively turn future Virginia-class subs into mini guided-missile subs.
In the early 2000s, the U.S. Navy converted its four oldest Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, designed to carry nuclear missiles, to carry up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles in canisters of seven that fit into the submarine’s large-diameter launch tubes. These original canisters were the inspiration for the large-diameter bow tubes installed on the later Virginias. As the Ohio guided missile submarines reach retirement in coming years the VPM-equipped Virginia-class submarines will replace some of their lost strike capacity.
Nine of the ten planned Block V Virginia-class submarines will be built with the Virginia Payload Module. The module will lengthen the midsection of the Virginia’s hulls to accommodate four large-diameter vertical launch tubes able to carry the same canisters installed on the converted Ohio-class submarines that hold seven Tomahawk cruise missiles. The additional tubes will allow the Virginia’s to carry up to 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles instead of twelve.
The tubes’ large diameter will also allow the Virginias to carry future, larger weapons, like a future hypersonic weapon, a top priority for the Defense Department to compete against China and Russia.
Maneuverable hypersonic weapons travel at greater than five times the speed of sound, making them exceptionally difficult to defend against. Most U.S. hypersonic weapons efforts fall under the Conventional Prompt Global Strike program, whose goal was to enable a conventional strike against a target anywhere on earth in under an hour.
Last October, the U.S. Navy successfully tested a hypersonic conventional prompt strike vehicle at a test range in Hawaii that utilized the same kind of Ohio-class launch tube that will be installed with the Virginia Payload Module.
Concerned about China’s advanced anti-ship missiles and maturing hypersonic weapons, procuring hypersonic strike capabilities was a top priority for Admiral Harry Harris, the former head of U.S. Pacific Command. Admiral Philip Davidson, his relief at the now-renamed Indo-Pacific Command shares Harris’ concern, and testified that a hypersonic capability was essential to compete, deter, and win against China.
Hypersonic weapons are also the Pentagon’s top research and engineering official highest technical priority. In Undersecretary of Defense Michael Griffin’s first public remarks since taking office recently, he said that his goal was to leapfrog the hypersonic advances made by Russia and China, which some other defense officials admitted have already surpassed the United States’ efforts.
“I didn’t take this job so that we could regain parity with our adversaries,” he explained, “I want to make
them worry about catching up with us again.” He said that if China deploys a tactical or regional hypersonic weapon system they would be able to hold U.S. carrier strike groups and forward naval forces. In response, the United States needs to be able to defend against hypersonic systems, vulnerability identified in an Air Force Studies Board report in 2016, and have an equivalent offensive capability to hold Chinese forces similarly at risk.
Without its own hypersonic capabilities of its own, the United States would be forced to either let China have its way, or respond with nuclear weapons, Griffin concluded, “and that should be an unacceptable situation for the United States.”