21 April 2017
Congress wants the Navy to design a submarine optimized to host special operations forces based on the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine.
Lawmakers envision the SOF-optimized sub to be built after the Navy has met all of its commitments to the nuclear triad.
"Between 2026 and 2029 the four OHIO class guided missile submarines (SSGNs) will be inactivated and the Navy will lose dual dry deck shelter (DDS) capability and large volume host submarine support to SOF," according to a report on undersea mobility for special operations forces. Congress directed the Navy to submit a report on this topic in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.
The first 11 Virginia-class attack submarines were built to support SOF operations, with each sub carrying a DDS and outfitted with a lock out trunk, the report reads.
"Four of these SSNs have been designated as primary SOF support SSNs and have completed DDS testing and certification, and another two have been designated as alternates," according to the report signed by Allison Stiller who is performing the duties and functions of the Navy acquisition executive. Inside the Navy reviewed a copy of the report.
Block III and IV Virginia-class submarines are not designed to carry a DDS but they do have a lock out trunk, the report reads.
Once the SSGNs decommission in the mid-2020s the Navy will certify additional Virginia-class submarines to meet SOF availability requirements. However, the service needs to evaluate the technical feasibility of having these subs crossfitted to host various DDSs. Currently, specific Virginia-class submarines are designated for a particular DDS.
"The Navy is evaluating the number of single DDS SOF capable submarines to include in Block V; this would provide additional flexibility in meeting USSOCOM availability requirements over that of the currently certified VA Class," according to the report.
In FY-21, the Navy will begin designing Block VI Virginia-class submarines and this provides the opportunity for the service to optimize the boats for SOF.
"The Navy SOF stakeholders have begun discussions to provide input to the Block VI design to optimize SOF capability," according to the report. "Although the VA Class hull is too small to support dual DDS operation, the capability of employing two vehicles, one from a single DDS and a second stored vertically in a VPM tube, is under evaluation."
Block VI Virginia-class submarine design will also consider the need to maximize berthing and training space for SOF while embarked.
Further, the dry combat submersible program is on track to achieve initial operational capability in FY-19. The DCS is designed to launch and recover from a surface ship, the report reads.
"While in some scenarios there may be greater operational risk due to the increased detectability of a host surface vessel, the risks can be mitigated by using appropriate tactics, techniques, and procedures, and by selecting a surface delivery platform with reduced detectability and improved situational awareness systems," according to the report.