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U.S. Navy Outlines the Next-Generation Attack Submarine SSN(X) Program
Peter Ong story with additional reporting by Xavier Vavasseur, artist impression by H I Sutton
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) provided a document on May 10, 2021 with outline details on the U.S. Navy’s Next-Generation Attack Submarine, dubbed SSN(X). According to the CRS SSN(X) report:
“Under the Navy’s FY2020 30-year (FY2020-FY2049) shipbuilding plan, the first SSN(X) would be procured in FY2031, along with a single Virginia-class boat. In FY2032 and FY2033, the final four Virginia-class boats would be procured, at a rate of two per year. Procurement of follow-on SSN(X)s, at a rate of two per year, would then begin in FY2034. The 30-year plan’s sustained procurement rate of two SSNs per year would achieve a force of 66 SSNs—the Navy’s current SSN force-level goal—in FY2048. Navy Next-Generation Attack Submarine (SSN[X]) Program: Background and Issues for Congress CRS Reports
A subsequent 30-year Navy shipbuilding document that the Trump Administration released on December 9, 2020—a document that can be viewed as the Trump Administration’s final published vision for future Navy force structure and/or a draft version of the FY2022 30-year shipbuilding plan—proposed a new SSN force-level goal of 72 to 78 boats. To meet this goal by the latter 2040s, it projected an SSN procurement rate of three boats per year during the period FY2035-FY2041, and two and two-thirds boats per year (in annual quantities of 2-3-3) during the period FY2042-FY2050.”
The new SSN(X) design places (renewed) emphasis on Anti-submarine Warfare (ASW) by increasing the SSN(X)’s transit speed and stealth features and characteristics over the current Virginia-class nuclear attack sub. Furthermore, the SSN(X) will also carry more weapons and a more diverse payload than the Virginia subs in order to deal with more advanced enemy submarines, unmanned underwater vessels (UUVs), and coordinate with allied warships and forces.
The CRS SSN(X) report stated that, “The Navy is examining three broad design options for the SSN(X)—a design based on the Virginia-class SSN design, a design based on the Columbia-class SSBN design, and a brand new design.
“An industry official stated that the SSN(X) might have a beam (i.e., hull diameter) greater than that of the Virginia-class design (34 feet), and closer to that of the Navy’s Seawolf-class SSN design and Columbia-class SSBN design (40 and 43 feet, respectively).
“An April 2021 CBO report on the December 9, 2020, 30-year Navy shipbuilding document states that in constant FY2021 dollars, the SSN(X)’s average unit procurement cost is estimated at $5.8 billion by the Navy and $6.2 billion by CBO.”
According to submarine expert H I Sutton, SSN(X) could feature new technologies such as:
Conformal bow sonar,
Larger weapons stowage compartment to accommodate more systems such as weapons and UUVs,
More torpedo tubes to deploy the systems mentioned above,
Very large flank arrays,
Quieter electric drive propulsion,
X-rudder for better maneuverability,
VLS for cruise missile and future hypersonic weapons
The U.S. Navy conducted its first-ever aerial refueling between a manned aircraft and an unmanned tanker on June 4, with a Boeing-owned MQ-25 Stingray test vehicle performing its first midair tanking mission with a Navy F/A-18E-F Super Hornet.