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. “Virginia Block III: The Revised Bow” chronicles some of the significant cost-saving design changes underway to the Virginia Class Block 3 subs, which begin at SSN-784, the 11th ship of class.
How is the program doing? The good news is, they just won a major procurement award for their efforts…
A lot has been written in recent years about the improvements in air-air missiles. Short-range air-air missiles (SRAAMs) have received particular attention due to their vastly improved wide-angle seekers, computer processor improvements driven by Moore’s Law, and the ability to pull several times more ‘gs’ than manned fighter aircraft when maneuvering. Some analysts now believe that close-in aerial combat may at last be threatening to fulfill missile engineers’ old claims of “see, fire, and kill” – a development that would make cheap aircraft with new missiles a very significant threat, if true. Medium range AAM (MRAAM) designs have also made significant strides in performance.
How big are these strides? Normally, hitting a missile in the atmosphere or in the lower echelons of space requires large mid-course interceptor rockets, or theater defense missiles like IAI/Boeing’s Arrow 2 or the USA’s THAAD, or the naval SM-3. But what if all the energy required to get off the ground and up to speed was already taken care of, line of sight was expanded considerably by being at altitude, and the defensive missile could be moved very close to the enemy launcher? If that was true, could you take an in-service medium range air-air missile (MRAAM), turn it into a 2-stage rocket with a complementary infrared seeker from an in-service SRAAM, and use it as a first line of defense to counter, say, a ballistic missile during its early launch phase?
Raytheon, and the US Missile Defense Agency, think the answer may be “yes.” Allied pilots in Desert Storm could sometimes see Iraqi SCUD missile launches – but in 1991, they were powerless to do anything about them. By 2006, technology had advanced enough that Raytheon and the US MDA introduced NCADE, the “Network Centric Airborne Defense Element.” Its potential may be even greater than its sponsors have considered…
The NCADE Proto-Program, and How It Works [updated]