Virginia Block III: The Revised Bow
“GDEB Receives $148M as Virginia Class Lead Yard” described changes to the Virginia Class submarine’s design that are expected to reach 20% of the $200 million savings goal by the time orders for the versatile sea attack/ land attack/ special forces submarines rise to 2 per year, in 2012.
The bow changes cover the FY 2009-2013 ships, referred to as Block III. SSN 774 Virginia – SSN 777 North Carolina are Block I, and SSNs 778-783 will be Block II. Block III begins with the 11th ship of class, SSN 784. Long lead time component orders began May 22/08, and the submarine is expected to be ready for delivery around 2015. A fuller explanation of Block III’s extensive bow changes, and an accompanying graphic, may be found below – along with contract updates that include additional improvements and sonar development.
The Virginia Class Program: “2 for 4 in 12”
The SSN-774 Virginia Class submarine was introduced in the 1990s as a Clinton-era reform that was intended to take some of the SSN-21 Seawolf Class’ key design and technology advances, and place them in a smaller, less heavily-armed, and less expensive platform. The resulting submarine would have learned some of the Seawolf program’s negative procurement lessons, while performing capably in land attack, naval attack, special forces, and shallow water roles. In the end, the Seawolf Class became a technology demonstrator program that was canceled at 3 ships, and the Virginia Class became the naval successor to America’s famed SSN-688 Los Angeles Class.
The Virginia Class program was supposed to reach 2 submarines per year by 2002, removing it from the unusual joint construction approach between General Dynamics Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding – but that goal has been pushed back to 2012 in progressive planning budgets.
In FY 2005 dollars, SSN-21 submarines cost between $3.1-3.5 billion each. According to Congressional Research Service report #RL32418, and the Navy is working toward a goal of shaving FY05$ 400 million from the cost of each Virginia Class boat, and buying 2 boats in FY2012 for combined cost of $4.0 billion in FY 2005 dollars – a goal referred to as “2 for 4 in 12”. In real dollars subject to inflation, that means about $2.6 billion per sub in 2012, and $2.7 billion in 2013. The Navy believes that moving from the current joint construction arrangement will shave FY05$ 200 million from the cost of each submarine, leaving another FY05$ 200 million (about $220 million) to be saved through ship design and related changes.
Block III: The Changes
The most obvious change is the switch from 12 vertical launch tubes, to 12 missiles in 2 tubes that use technology from the Ohio Class special forces/ strike SSGN program. The Virginia’s hull has a smaller cross-section than the converted ballistic missile SSGNs, so the “6-shooters” will be shorter and a bit wider. Nevertheless, they will share a great deal of common technology, allowing innovations on either platform to be incorporated into the other submarine class during major maintenance milestones. Net savings are about $8 million to program baseline costs.
The other big change you can see in the above diagram is switching from an air-backed sonar sphere to a water-backed Large Aperture Bow (LAB) array. Eliminating the hundreds of SUBSAFE penetrations that help maintain required pressure in the air-backed sonar sphere will save approximately $11 million per hull, and begins with the FY 2012 boats (SSNs 787-788).
The LAB Array has 2 primary components: the passive array, which will provide improved performance, and a medium-frequency active array. It utilizes transducers from the SSN-21 Seawolf Class that are that are designed to last the life of the hull. This is rather par for the course, as the Virginia Class’ was created in the 1990s to incorporate key elements of the $4 billion Seawolf Class submarine technologies into a cheaper boat.
The SUBSAFE eliminations, plus the life-of-the-hull transducers, will help to reduce the submarines’ life cycle costs as well by removing moving parts that require maintenance, eliminating possible points of failure and repair, and removing the need for transducer replacements in drydock.
The bow redesign is not limited to these changes, however, and includes 25 associated redesign efforts. These are estimated to reduce construction costs by another $20 million per hull beginning with the FY 2012 submarine.
With the $19 million ($11 + 8) from the LAB array and Vertical Payload, and the $20 million from the associated changes, General Dynamics is $39 million toward the $200 million baseline costs goal of “2 for 4 in 12”. While the changes themselves will begin with the FY 2009 ship, the savings are targeted at FY 2012 because of the learning curve required as part of the switch. Recent discussions concerning an earlier shift to 2 submarines per year would result in faster production of the Block III submarines, but would be unlikely to make a huge difference to that learning curve.
Contracts and Key Events
Jan 5/09: Goodrich in Charlotte, NC received a $49 million contract from Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding to provide composite components for the next 8 Virginia Class nuclear fast attack submarines referred to as Block III.
Goodrich’s Engineered Polymer Products team in Jacksonville, FL is building components to support the construction of 1 ship per year in 2009 and 2010, rising to 2 ships per year from 2011 through 2013. The components include the bow dome, and sonar and weapons equipment.
Dec 22/08: The US Navy signals its a href=”/Early-Xmas-Big-Virginia-Contracts-for-GDEB-NGC-05218/”>approval of the Virginia Class’ progress, and of the new Block III design, with a $14.011 billion contract to fund 8 Virginia Class block III submarines. Work on these boats will run until 2019.
Dec 12/08: General Dynamics Electric Boat Corp. in Groton, CT received a $16.8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee material order to fund the Block III Common Weapon Launcher (CWL) design, and includes the total scope associated with the vendor portion of the inboard electronics design as well as the scope required for in-house (Electric Boat) tasks. The CWL will sit in the Block III bow’s “six shooter” holes, and is so named because that space can be used to launch a wide variety of items besides UGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles; aerial UAVs and underwater UUVs are the most obvious.
GDEB services will include engineering support, Engineering Development Model (EDM) hardware, continued development of the CWL for use with SSN 784 VPT, development of interface documents, and defining changes to support interfaces to the Weapon Control and Payload Tube Control Panels. Work will be performed in Manassas, VA, and is expected to be complete by 2013. This contract was not competitively procured by the supervisor of Shipbuilding Conversion and Repair in Groton CT (N00024-09-C-2101).
Dec 12/08: Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems and Sensors in Manassas, VA received a $38.3 million modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-04-C-6207) for engineering services in support of the Acoustic – Rapid Commercial off The Shelf (A-RCI) program. The 550,000 additional engineering services hours will be used on TacLAN tasking related to Special Operations support, and to complete the new “BSY-2 Wrap Around Antenna (WAA),” which is listed as being a Virginia Class sonar.
DID requested clarification, and got it. BSY-2 is a Seawolf class system only. WAA is the Wide Aperture Array, and on the SSN-774 Virginia Class it evolved to the L-WAA (Lightweight Wide Aperture Array). The Virginia Class Block III bow has been redesigned to save money beginning with SSN 784; it will use the Large Aperture Bow (LAB) Array.
It turns out that the DefenseLINK release should read “technology insertions for the USS Jimmy Carter’s [SSN 23 Seawolf Class] BSY-2 WAA, and USS North Carolina [SSN 777 Virginia Class] LWAA TI-08 integration.” The exact work involved is technology insertion, integration, and modernization on USS Jimmy Carter and USS North Carolina, as well as the completion of the existing TI-08 effort and the Virginia Class Block III TI-10 Large Aperture Bow (LAB) Array effort for SSN 784.
Work will be performed in Manassas, VA (90%) and Syracuse, NY (10%) and is expected to be complete by June 2009. This contract was not competitively procured by US Naval Sea Systems Command.
Nov 5/08: The Virginia Class nuclear fast attack submarine Program Office Virginia Class Sub Program Wins Acquisition Awardreceives the 2008 David Packard Excellence in Acquisition Award during a ceremony at Fort Belvoir, VA. This marks the third time (1996, 1998, 2008) that the Virginia Class Program Office has earned the award. The Virginia Class Program was recognized for excelling in 4 specific areas: reducing life-cycle costs; making the acquisition system more efficient, responsive, and timely; integrating defense with the commercial base and practices; and promoting continuous improvement of the acquisition process.