Monday, June 6, 2011

Next Generation Of American Fast Attack Submarines

     For those of you who have read my previous post about new Russian submarine classes you might remember that few if any new Russian subs have reached service yet, but that is not the case for the newest American fast attack submarine class. The Virginia-class is the latest fast attack sub class in the U.S. Navy, with improved stealth and armament over the older Los Angeles-class submarines. 
     Virginia-class submarines have a displacement of 7,800 tons submerged but, I could not find the displacement when on the surface. Virginia-class subs have a length of 115 meters and a beam of 10 meters, along with a draught of 9.75 meters. Virginia-class subs have a top speed of 32 knots submerged and a top speed of 25 knots on the surface but, there are reports of Los Angeles-class subs going up to 33 knots. Thus, it would seem likely that Virginia-class subs have a much greater speed than the Navy admits. Virginia-class submarines have an operational depth of around 250m but, the max diving depth is classified.
     Virginia-class submarines are equipped with 12 VLS tubes (Vertical Launching System) capable of firing BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles. Virginia-class subs also have 4 533mm torpedo tubes that launch both the Mark 48 torpedo along with the new Submarine Launched Mobile Mine (SLMM) when it becomes available. While on the subject of the Virginia-class's armament, a couple of months ago Defense Tech reported that Electric Boat pitched the idea of building stretched Virginia-class subs equipped with 194 Tomahawk cruise missile for only $500 million more or a 20 percent higher cost (Virginias already cost around 2.5 billion dollars each) as a temporary replacement for the Ohio-class SSBNs during the 2020s.
     The picture above is a graph showing the decrease in noise produced by Soviet, Russian and American submarines from 1960 to around 2008 or 2009. The graph show how American subs have always been quieter than their Soviet or Russian counterparts but, in recent years the graph shows how the difference in noise produced has gotten smaller and smaller with the Severodvinsk-class (Yasen-class) almost as quiet as the Virgina-class (SSN-774). On top of this there have been incidents where Virginia-class submarine's hull coating falls off the side of the sub. Hull coatings are materials that dampen internal sounds and to some degree absorb active sonar pulses thus, if the hull coatings fall off the sub's sonar signature increases, making it easier to detect.
     While the Virginia-class has some drawbacks such as it's high cost and lousy hull coatings, it is also the best class of submarines in the sea today easily surpassing the British Astute-class and Russian Yasen-class in all aspects, with the possible exception of noise produced. As the U.S. faces an ever strengthening China and Russia these subs will prove that it was money well spent.


Photo Credit: U.S. Navy, Office Of Naval Intelligence

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