DDG(X) Destroyer Could Cost Up to $3.4B a Hull, SSN(X) Attack Boat Up to $7.2B, Says CBO Report

The Navy’s next-generation guided-missile destroyer could cost up to $3.4 billion a ship, while its next-generation SSN(X) attack boat could cost up to $7.2 billion – figures that are billions over the service’s own estimates, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s annual analysis of the Navy’s long-range shipbuilding plan. The procurement of both SSN(X) and […]

Notional Navy DDG(X) hull design. PEO Ships Image

The Navy’s next-generation guided-missile destroyer could cost up to $3.4 billion a ship, while its next-generation SSN(X) attack boat could cost up to $7.2 billion – figures that are billions over the service’s own estimates, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s annual analysis of the Navy’s long-range shipbuilding plan.

The procurement of both SSN(X) and DDG(X) comes as the Navy faces several years of flat budgets heading into the into the 2030s and as several major procurement programs compete for money within the service and with the priorities of the Office of Secretary of Defense. OSD took a more active role in crafting the Navy’s congressionally mandated Fiscal Year 2023 shipbuilding plan.

Instead of providing a single 30-year outlook for the Navy’s shipbuilding plan, the service instead issued three separate plants for FY 2023.

The Navy crafted a low-end and high-end plan based on two separate funding profiles – Alternative 1 and Alternative 3. The Pentagon’s office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation crafted a third profile – Alternative 2 – that emphasized building attack submarines and the Columbia-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine, several congressional and defense officials told USNI News.

In all the estimates, CBO found that the Navy underestimated the cost of its shipbuilding plans by $4 to $5 billion annually over the 30-year life of the proposals.

“The Navy’s cost estimates are, $689 billion for Alternative 1, $696 billion for Alternative 2, and $763 billion for Alternative 3 (or, over 30 years, an average of $23.0 billion, $23.2 billion, and $25.4 billion per year, respectively),” reads the report.
“CBO estimates that buying only the new ships specified in the Navy’s 2023 plan would cost $795 billion under Alternative 1, $834 billion under Alternative 2, and $881 billion under Alternative 3 (or, over 30 years, an average of $26.5 billion, $27.8 billion, and $29.4 billion per year, respectively—all in 2022 dollars).”

CBO Graphic

Part of the price difference is based on the Navy’s planned cost of the new destroyer and attack boat programs – which CBO estimates is too low.

According to the analysis, the DDG(X) program could cost from $3.1 to $3.4 billion based on increasing the size from the existing Arleigh Burke-class Flight III (DDG-51) guided-missile destroyers.

“The new DDG(X)’s combat capabilities would be equivalent or superior to those of the DDG-51 Flight III; it would also have a larger hull, substantially more power, more stealth characteristics, and a greater capacity to accommodate the installation of new weapon systems and other capabilities in the future,” reads the report.

“The Navy has indicated that the initial design prescribes a displacement of 13,500 tons. If that is the case, then the Navy’s estimates imply that the DDG(X) would cost 10 percent more than the DDG-51 Flight III but would have a full-load displacement that is 40 percent greater.”

The Navy estimates the cost at $2.1 to $2.4 billion and the service “contends that the case of the DDG(X) will differ from that of the DDG-1000 because the former ship would have a combat system and radar substantially similar to those of the DDG-51 Flight III and would only require designing a new hull and power system,” reads the report.

Estimated surface warships and attack submarine inventory based on the Navy’s three plans in its shipbuilding outlook. CBO Image

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday earlier this year compared the evolution of the DDG(X) from the Flight III DDG-51s to how the Navy transitioned from the Ticonderoga-class to the original Flight I DDG-51.

“Our intent for DDG(X) would be much the same, that we would use a proven combat system on that ship. But we need a ship that has more space and allows for more weight and for capability growth over time. An example might be hypersonic missiles, just based on the size of those missiles. We couldn’t fit those in a current Arleigh Burke, or even a Flight III. [DDG(X) is] a deeper ship, if you will, from that standpoint,” he said in September.

The CBO report cited cost growth in other shipbuilding programs as a counter to the Navy’s position that keeping existing systems will cut costs.

“Such an outcome, however, seems unlikely on the basis of the history of building new surface combatants. For example, in the 2000s, the Navy estimated that the [16,000-ton] Zumwalt class DDG-1000 guided missile destroyer would cost only slightly more than the [9,000-ton] DDG-51s that were then in production, even though the DDG-1000 was 50 percent larger than the DDG-51. Ultimately, costs for the DDG-1000 increased by about 45 percent,” reads the report.

In the submarine realm, CBO estimates that the service’s planned next-generation attack submarine (SSN(X)) could cost between $6.2 and $7.2 billion – well above the Navy’s $5.6 billion estimate.

The current Virginia-class boats cost about $2.8 billion per hull, while the Block Vs with the 80-foot Virginia Payload Module will cost about $3.2 billion.

“Estimating the costs of the SSN(X) is difficult because the Navy has not yet determined its capabilities or size. In the past, the Navy has indicated that, like the Seawolf class (SSN-21) submarine, the next-generation attack submarine should be faster, stealthier, and able to carry more torpedoes than Virginia class ships. The service has also indicated that it wants the SSN(X) to have vertical launch capability, an attribute of the Improved Los Angeles class submarine and the original Virginia class submarine,” reads the report.
“CBO’s cost estimates therefore reflect the assumption that the SSN(X) would be similar to a Seawolf class submarine but would have an entirely new design. The submarine’s advanced features would make it as quiet and stealthy as possible; it could launch missiles from missile cells and would contain a torpedo room the size of those on Seawolf class submarines.”

Seawolf-class attack boats can hold up to 50 torpedoes, USNI News understands.

“Virginia remains the most capable multi-mission submarine in the world, bar none,” Rear Adm. Doug Perry, the director of the undersea warfare division on the chief of naval operations staff (OPNAV N97), said last year. “But we must maintain our undersea advantage by investing for future capabilities. And we know we need to start that work today to make sure we can deliver SSN(X) in time of need, and without lots of technical or schedule risk.”

Report to Congress on Navy SSN(X) Next-Generation Attack Submarine

The following is the Aug. 30, 2022, Congressional Research In Focus report, Navy Next-Generation Attack Submarine (SSN[X]) Program: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report The Navy wants to begin procuring a new class of nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN), called the Next-Generation Attack Submarine or SSN(X), in the mid-2030s. The SSN(X) would be the […]

The following is the Aug. 30, 2022, Congressional Research In Focus report, Navy Next-Generation Attack Submarine (SSN[X]) Program:
Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The Navy wants to begin procuring a new class of nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN), called the Next-Generation Attack Submarine or SSN(X), in the mid-2030s. The SSN(X) would be the successor to the Virginia-class SSN design, which the Navy has been procuring since FY1998. The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget requests $237.0 million in research and development funding for the SSN(X) program.

Submarines in the U.S. Navy 

The U.S. Navy operates nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), nuclear-powered cruise missile and special operations forces (SOF) submarines (SSGNs), and nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs). The SSNs are general-purpose submarines that can perform a variety of peacetime and wartime missions.

Virginia-Class Program 

As mentioned above, the Navy has been procuring Virginia-class SSNs since FY1998. Since FY2011, the Navy has been procuring them at a rate of two boats per year. When procured at a rate of two boats per year, Virginia-class SSNs equipped with the Virginia Payload Module (VPM) have a current estimated procurement cost of about $3.6 billion per boat. (Most Virginia-class boats procured in FY2019 and subsequent years are to be built with the VPM, an additional mid-body section equipped with four large-diameter, vertical launch tubes.)

Submarine Construction Industrial Base 

U.S. Navy submarines are built by General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division (GD/EB) of Groton, CT, and Quonset Point, RI, and Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding (HII/NNS), of Newport News, VA. These are the only two shipyards in the country capable of building nuclear-powered ships. GD/EB builds submarines only, while HII/NNS also builds nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. The submarine construction industrial base also includes hundreds of supplier firms, as well as laboratories and research facilities, in numerous states. Much of the material procured from supplier firms for building submarines comes from sole-source suppliers.

 SSN(X) Program 

Program Designation 

In the designation SSN(X), the “X” means that the exact design of the boat has not yet been determined.

Procurement Schedule 

The Navy wants to shift from procuring Virginia-class boats to procuring SSN(X)s in the mid-2030s.

Download the document here.

Top Stories 2021: U.S. Navy Acquisition

This post is part of a series looking back at the top naval stories from 2021. This year began with a level of uncertainty for Navy acquisition, as an administration change left naval observers wondering how the new Biden administration would approach the future fleet. While the Trump administration at the end of 2020 unveiled a […]

Submarine construction continues apace in the latest US Navy budget request, which asks for two more Virginia-class submarines and another installment for the missile sub Columbia. Here, the Virginia-class attack submarine USS Montana (SSN-794) is seen just after launch in March 2021 at Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding. HII Photo

This post is part of a series looking back at the top naval stories from 2021.

This year began with a level of uncertainty for Navy acquisition, as an administration change left naval observers wondering how the new Biden administration would approach the future fleet.

While the Trump administration at the end of 2020 unveiled a delayed shipbuilding plan to increase the size of the fleet, it remains unclear what direction the Biden administration – which only submitted a budget request for the current fiscal year as opposed to a five-year outlook – will take.

Still, the Navy has resumed a strategy of seeking to divest legacy programs to pursue new technologies and platforms, an approach that continued to receive both skepticism and criticism from Congress this year.

With several significant new acquisition programs – including a new fighter aircraft, a new attack submarine and a new destroyer – currently in the research and development phases, the Navy has multiple big-ticket items to pay for in the next decade as it recalculates a strategy focused on the Indo-Pacific.

Surface Ships

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer Jack H. Lucas (DDG-125) launching at Ingalls Shipbuilding on June 5, 2021. HII Photo

The Navy asked to purchase both large and small surface combatants this year, including a request for one Arleigh Burke-class destroyer despite a multi-year procurement contract already in place that planned for the Navy to buy two in Fiscal Year 2022. The decision to ask for one destroyer angered lawmakers, who added the second destroyer in their marks of the defense policy and spending bills.

The Navy is also in the research and development stages for several of its future surface ship platforms, including DDG(X), which will follow the Arleigh Burke-class. In the meantime, the service plans to execute another Arleigh Burke-class destroyer multi-year procurement contract that would span from Fiscal Year 2023 through FY 2027.

A Fincantieri Marinette Marine model of the proposed USS Constellation (FFG-62). USNI News Photo

The service is also progressing on the Constellation-class frigate program and in May issued Fincantieri Marinette Marine a $554 million contract modification to start building the second frigate in the class. Fincantieri was also slated to begin fabrication of the first frigate – the future USS Constellation (FFG-62) – by the end of the 2021 calendar year. The Navy’s FY 2022 budget request asked to purchase one frigate.

While Congress has pushed the Navy to buy more large amphibious warships, the Navy’s acting acquisition chief told lawmakers in June that the Pentagon would likely hold off on executing a preliminary agreement to buy four amphibs until it completes a new force structure assessment.

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps remains committed to the need for a Light Amphibious Warship that could shuttle Marines around the Indo-Pacific as they set up expeditionary bases on islands and archipelagos, where they could fire anti-ship missiles. In June, the Navy awarded five companies – Fincantieri, Austal USA, VT Halter Marine, Bollinger and TAI Engineers – “concept design” contracts for LAW, which would come out of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget.

Submarines

Attack boat New Jersey on Nov. 12, 2021, at Newport News Shipbuilding. USNI News Photo

The Navy’s submarine acquisition efforts have remained steady, with the first Columbia-class ballistic missile boat under construction and the service continuing to pursue the Virginia-class attack boats.

In the Fiscal Year 2022 budget request, the Navy asked to buy two Virginia-class submarines and lawmakers signaled they want the service to work up to buying three per year.

The service is also in the early research and development phase for SSN(X), the next nuclear attack submarine class that will follow the Virginia-class boats, and asked for nearly $30 million in research and development funding to pursue the new program.

The current head of the undersea warfare division on the chief of naval operations staff (OPNAV N97) recently said the future submarine will focus on blue water operations, unlike its predecessor that was designed for operations closer to shore, and need to be quiet and have more torpedoes.

Artist’s rendering of the Columbia-class SSBN submarine. US Navy Image

“We don’t know the specific characteristics that will be in SSNs. But we do believe that the next submarine will have a large horizontal payload capacity. You can read that as it’s going to carry a lot of torpedoes. And we know how to do that. It’ll be fast. And it’ll have acoustic superiority. That’s both sensors to hear the other ships out there as well as stealth – staying quiet,” Rear Adm. Doug Perry said at a conference last month.
“We know how to do all of these things, but we have to integrate them into one platform. Speed and large payload? We did that on Seawolf, and we need to pull that forward to a modular construction submarine.”

On the organizational side, the Navy this year also restructured its program offices for submarines by making the admiral leading the Columbia program the new program executive officer of strategic submarines, or PEO SSBN, which will cover the Ohio-class guided-missile and nuclear ballistic missile submarines. The service also created a program executive officer for attack submarines, or PEO SSN, which will manage the Seawolf class, the Los Angeles class, the Virginia class and the future SSN(X). Part of the restructuring also created a program executive officer for undersea warfare systems to manage undersea weapons and how the Navy’s Project Overmatch initiative – which seeks to create a battle network to connect platforms across domains – will fit into the undersea warfare.

Carrier Aviation

Carriers USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) and John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) at Newport News Shipbuilding on Nov. 12, 2021. USNI News Photo

The lead ship in the Navy’s Ford-class aircraft carrier program hit several milestones this year and is scheduled to deploy in 2022 after a series of delays and some reliability issues with key new technologies, including the Advanced Weapons Elevators.

USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) wrapped up its post-delivery test and trials phase in the spring before heading into full-ship shock trials over the summer. Officials described the carrier’s shock trial testing – when the Navy detonates 40,000 pounds of ordnance in the water near the hull to test the ship and its systems – as having no major flooding, injuries, or fires aboard.

The carrier is currently in the midst of a planned incremental availability that will span six months before it begins preparing for the 2022 deployment, which comes four years after the original planned 2018 deployment date.

Despite the carrier’s progress this year, the Navy has still had to take parts from the future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), the second carrier in the class that is currently under construction at Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding, to ensure Ford is ready to deploy this year, USNI News previously reported. The Navy has said the cannibalization of parts won’t affect Kennedy‘s schedule.

Aircraft

An F/A-18F Super Hornet, assigned to the ‘Bounty Hunters’ of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 2, prepares to launch from the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) on Aug. 25, 2021. US Navy Photo

For nearly two years the Navy has argued it must end the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet production line, saying the divestment will allow the service to pursue future technologies and assets like the Next Generation Air Dominance program.

But lawmakers have been skeptical of the Navy’s proposal to end a mature production line and the tension between the service and Congress played out in an open forum over the summer when officials questioned the viability of the Super Hornets against future threats. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday also criticized defense lobbyists at the time for pushing lawmakers to purchase aircraft the Navy does not want.

“It’s not the 90s anymore. If you go to the tri-service strategy, we really try to punctuate the sense of urgency that we feel everyday against China to move, to move the needle in a bureaucracy that’s really not designed to move very fast,” Gilday said in August. “And so although it’s in industry’s best interest . . . building the ships that you want to build, lagging on repairs to ships and submarines, lobbying Congress to buy aircraft that we don’t need that are excess to need, it’s not helpful. It really isn’t in a budget-constrained environment.”

An F/A-18F Super Hornet, attached to the ‘Gladiators’ of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106, approaches USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) flight deck during flight operations on March 27, 2020. US Navy Photo

Despite the service not asking to purchase any Super Hornets in FY 2022, congressional authorizers approved funding for 12 F/A 18 E/F Super Hornets in their final version of the defense policy bill. While the House Appropriations Committee added funding for 12 Super Hornets in its draft of the defense spending bill, it’s unclear where the final appropriations bill will fall on the issue.

Meanwhile, the Navy continues to pursue its Next Generation Air Dominance program, but kept the research and development dollars it asked for in FY 2022 for the program classified. The former air warfare director on the chief of naval operations staff (OPNAV N98) in March said NGAD is expected to be a family of manned and unmanned systems, with a fighter known as F/A-XX functioning as the nucleus. That fighter, the admiral said at the time, is likely to be manned.

The Navy also expects both manned and unmanned platforms to replace its rotary wing fleet. Future Vertical Lift – the term the Navy uses for the platform that will ultimately replace the MH-60R and MH-60S helicopters – is also in the development phase. Requirements include the ability for the platform to operate off the fleet’s frigates and destroyers.

Unmanned Systems

Medium displacement unmanned surface vessels Seahawk, front, and Sea Hunter launch for the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem 21 (UxS IBP 21), April 20, 2021. US Navy Photo

The Navy is continuing its pursuit of unmanned systems across domains, including for surface platforms.

This year the Navy took possession of a second medium unmanned surface vessel prototype, known as Sea Hawk, for experimentation out on the West Coast. Sea Hawk is the sister ship to Sea Hunter, which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

USVs Ranger and Nomad unmanned vessels underway in the Pacific Ocean near the Channel Islands on July 3, 2021. US Navy Photo

The Navy’s Surface Development Squadron One out in California has been tasked with experimenting with unmanned surface vehicles to get a better understanding of the concept of operations.

While lawmakers have expressed concerns that the Navy is moving out too quickly on untested technologies it does not yet fully understand, the service has signaled its looking for ways to assuage congressional apprehension. For example, Capt. Pete Small, the Navy’s program manager for unmanned maritime systems, earlier this year said the Navy was looking to increase the use of land-based testing of prototypes for unmanned vessels.

Despite the Navy’s push to develop unmanned vessels, the service is still working out how it will man the platforms. Small this year also acknowledged that the Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle (LUSV), for now, would likely need a small crew detachment to perform tasks like refueling.

Shipbuilding Outlook

Pre-commissioning unit (PCU) Hyman G. Rickover (SSN-795) seen prior to a christening ceremony at General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard facility in Groton, Conn., on July 31, 2021. US Navy Photo

While the Navy continued to ask for submarines and surface combatants this year, and pursue its research and development efforts for major new programs on the horizon, the service lacks a recent publicly available five-year budget outlook and 30-year shipbuilding plan that could fill in some gaps in naval strategy.

The Biden administration’s FY 2022 budget submission for the Pentagon did not include the typical Future Years Defense Plan that provides a five-year budget outlook. Its shipbuilding plan, provided to Congress in June, only showed FY 2022 construction and potential ranges for programs, unlike the detailed 30-year outlook that typically shows the number and types of ships the Navy projects buying in each year.

Rendering of Block V Virginia-class submarine with Virginia Payload Module. General Dynamics Electric Boat Image

“The Navy, working closely with the OSD Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), continues to develop comparative assessments of naval force structure options consistent with Interim National Security Strategic Guidance and designed to maximize the maritime contribution to the joint force,” the shipbuilding report read.
“The results of these efforts and ongoing experimentation and prototyping will be reflected in the FY2023 shipbuilding plan.”

While some ship acquisition approaches and planned quantities are firm – like that of the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program – the future fleet architecture is likely to become clearer after the Navy submits its FY 2023 budget and a long-range shipbuilding blueprint to Congress next year.

Report to Congress on Navy SSN(X) Next-Generation Attack Submarine

The following is the Dec 9, 2021 Congressional Research Service In Focus report, Navy Next-Generation Attack Submarine (SSN[X]) Program: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report The Navy wants to begin procuring a new class of nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN), called the Next-Generation Attack Submarine or SSN(X), in FY2031. The SSN(X) would be the […]

The following is the Dec 9, 2021 Congressional Research Service In Focus report, Navy Next-Generation Attack Submarine (SSN[X]) Program: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The Navy wants to begin procuring a new class of nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN), called the Next-Generation Attack Submarine or SSN(X), in FY2031. The SSN(X) would be the successor to the Virginia-class SSN design, which the Navy has been procuring since FY1998. The Navy’s proposed FY2022 budget requests $98.0 million in research and development funding for the SSN(X) program.

Submarines in the U.S. Navy 

The U.S. Navy operates nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), nuclear-powered cruise missile and special operations forces (SOF) submarines (SSGNs), and nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs). The SSNs are general-purpose submarines that can perform a variety of peacetime and wartime missions.

Virginia-Class Program 

Virginia-class SSNs have been procured since FY2011 at a rate of two boats per year. When procured at a rate of two boats per year, VPM-equipped Virginia-class SSNs have an estimated procurement cost of about $3.4 billion per boat.

Submarine Construction Industrial Base 

U.S. Navy submarines are built by General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division (GD/EB) of Groton, CT, and Quonset Point, RI, and Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding (HII/NNS), of Newport News, VA. These are the only two shipyards in the country capable of building nuclear-powered ships. GD/EB builds submarines only, while HII/NNS also builds nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. The submarine construction industrial base also includes hundreds of supplier firms, as well as laboratories and research facilities, in numerous states. Much of the material procured from supplier firms for building submarines comes from sole-source suppliers.

SSN(X) Program 

Program Designation
In the designation SSN(X), the “X” means that the exact design of the boat has not yet been determined.

Procurement Schedule 
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. 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. A long-range Navy shipbuilding document released by the Biden Administration on June 17, 2021, proposed a new SSN force-level goal of 66 to 72 boats and envisaged increasing the SSN procurement rate years from now to something more than two boats per year.

Download the document here.

Next Generation SSN(X) Attack Sub ‘Is Going to Carry a Lot of Torpedoes,’ Says Admiral

ARLINGTON, Va. – The next U.S. nuclear attack submarine must require less maintenance, be fast, quiet and packed with torpedoes, the service’s director of undersea warfare said on Thursday. The SSN(X) nuclear attack boat will be more focused on the war in blue water than the multi-mission Virginia-class submarines, which are designed to operate closer […]

USS Missouri (SSN-780) departs Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for a scheduled deployment in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility on Sept. 1, 2021. US Navy Photo

ARLINGTON, Va. – The next U.S. nuclear attack submarine must require less maintenance, be fast, quiet and packed with torpedoes, the service’s director of undersea warfare said on Thursday.

The SSN(X) nuclear attack boat will be more focused on the war in blue water than the multi-mission Virginia-class submarines, which are designed to operate closer to shore for missions like signals intelligence and special operation missions.

Virginia remains the most capable multi-mission submarine in the world – bar none,” Rear Adm. Doug Perry, the director of the undersea warfare division on the chief of naval operations staff (OPNAV N97), said last week. “But we must maintain our undersea advantage by investing for future capabilities. And we know we need to start that work today to make sure we can deliver SSN(X) in time of need, and without lots of technical or schedule risk.”

In 2019, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the SSN(X) boats could cost up to $5.5 billion per hull. The current Virginia-class boats cost about $2.8 billion per hull, while the Block Vs with the 80-foot Virginia Payload Module will cost about $3.2 billion.

“The Navy indicates that the next-generation attack submarine should be faster, stealthier, and able to carry more torpedoes than the Virginia class—similar to the Seawolf-class submarine. CBO therefore assumed that the SSN(X) would be a Seawolf-sized SSN, which displaces about 9,100 tons when submerged, and would have an all-new design in keeping with the Navy’s description of it as a fast, lethal next-generation attack submarine,” the CBO wrote.

Before Virginia, the Navy developed the Sea Wolf-class to be a deep-diving submarine with a weapons room that can field about 50 torpedoes.

Perry said, in broad strokes, SSN(X) would take the heavily-armed Seawolf template, combine the stealthy technology developed for Virginia and keep the time in maintenance to a minimum.

Outside of a classified initial draft capabilities document, “we don’t know the specific characteristics that will be in SSNs. But we do believe that the next submarine will have a large horizontal payload capacity. You can read that as it’s going to carry a lot of torpedoes. And we know how to do that. It’ll be fast. And it’ll have acoustic superiority. That’s both sensors to hear the other ships out there as well as stealth – staying quiet,” Perry said.
“We know how to do all of these things, but we have to integrate them into one platform.
Speed and large payload? We did that on Seawolf, and we need to pull that forward to a modular construction submarine.”

Overview of USS South Dakota (SSN-790) upgrades for the Acoustic Superiority Program program. US Navy Image

Part of the development of more offensive submarines, the Navy restarted the Mk-48 Advanced Capability (ADCAP) heavyweight torpedo in 2016.

“The heavyweight torpedo will remain the weapon of choice for the submarine for this for the foreseeable future, primarily due to its inherent stealth, its destructive effects in the battlespace, and [it’s] pretty difficult to defend against and it also [preserves] the stealth of launch platform,” Perry said.

The development of the Navy’s Acoustic Superiority Program began on Virginia-class USS South Dakota (SSN-790), which commissioned in 2019, Perry said. The package includes a large vertical array mounted on the hull just aft of the sail, a special exterior coating and machinery quieting improvements inside the boat.

Based on the timing of the construction of the Columbia-class, the new class would come just as the construction of the class of 12 nuclear ballistic missile submarines is ending in the 2040s and in the short term design work should begin soon.

“With Columbia 95 percent design complete, now is the time to begin transitioning that experienced design workforce,” Perry said.
“Fielding any new class submarine is challenging, but we got to strike while the iron is hot.”

The Virginia boats now – and the Columbia boats in the future – are built in a teaming arrangement between Huntington Ingalls Industries and General Dynamic Electric Boat. Each yard builds part of a boat and the components are barged to each yard for final assembly, with EB being the lead yard for the design of each class. Perry said that the workforce would be key to making SSN(X) affordable.

“This maintains a steady demand signal for the shipyard workforce, which is a key element of developing and sustaining a resilient submarine industrial base,” Perry said.

USS Vermont (SSN-792) transits the Thames River while conducting routine operations on Oct. 15, 2020. US Navy Photo

The Navy is also considering how it will leverage unmanned undersea vehicles with its new class.

“We know the ability to influence the battlespace and leverage the seafloor is to get to the bottom of the ocean you will need UUVs,” Perry said.
“That requires a submarine interface that will drive what SSN(X) has to be in terms of a dimension for an interface that will launch and recover [UUVs]. It may be a torpedo tube it may be something different.”

On the other end of construction, the Navy is working to increase the amount of time the submarines can operate by reducing time in maintenance.

“SSN(X) has to have high operational availability, [we’ve] got to be able to keep that ship at sea. And that gets to sort of the class maintenance plan. We’ve learned a lot from operating [the Los Angeles class], then Seawolf and Virginia. We are analyzing those class maintenance plans with PEO Subs and making sure that the class maintenance plan we’ve come up with gives us the highest operational building availability possible,” Perry said.
“That’ll be really part of our calculus as we define the work through the capability development document and [requirements] process and defining what SSN(X) needs to be.”

Top Stories 2020: U.S. Navy Acquisition

This post is part of a series of stories looking back at the top naval news from 2020. 2020 may be among the most consequential years for Navy acquisition in recent memory, with the service making big moves in support of its Distributed Maritime Operations operating concept. 2020 was the year the Navy officially started construction […]

Attack boat Vermont (SSN-792) float-off on March 29, 2019. General Dynamics Electric Boats Photo

This post is part of a series of stories looking back at the top naval news from 2020. 2020 may be among the most consequential years for Navy acquisition in recent memory, with the service making big moves in support of its Distributed Maritime Operations operating concept. 2020 was the year the Navy officially started construction on the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program, a massive every-other-generation effort to replace the sea-based nuclear deterrent subs. It was also the year the Constellation-class guided-missile frigate program was awarded to Fincantieri, who will design and build what will become a centerpiece of the future distributed fleet. It was the year the Navy called for an end to the F/A-18E-F Super Hornet program, reinvesting that money into a longer-range next-generation fighter that could help silence critics who say the aircraft carrier will be useless against China because the air wing’s range is too short. And it was the year the Navy and its Marine Corps partners moved out on a Light Amphibious Warship that could revolutionize how the Fleet Marine Force moves around a maritime theater in support of sea control and sea denial.

Surface Ships

Fincantieri FFG(X) Design based on the FREMM. Fincantieri Image

The surface fleet is among the parts of the Navy most changed by Distributed Maritime Operations. Rather than the Navy’s recent reliance on guided-missile cruisers and destroyers to drill with allies and partners, patrol chokepoints and conduct freedom of navigation operations, the Navy will instead rely on a large fleet of small combatants to do much of this day-to-day work, freeing up a smaller number of destroyers to conduct higher-end operations and haul around large, long-range missiles. Key to this plan is the success of the Constellation-class frigate. The Navy awarded a $795-million contract to Fincantieri on April 30 to do detail design work and build the first frigate in the class. Options for as many as nine more ships would bring the total value to $5.58 billion if exercised. Fincantieri beat out four other competitors with a design based on the FREMM multi-mission frigate already operated by the French and Italian navies. It will build the frigate at its Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin. In October, the class officially received a name, with Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite announcing the first-in-class ship would be USS Constellation (FFG-62) – after it was nearly named USS Agility by former SECNAV Thomas Modly earlier in the year. Though there will be fewer large combatants in the fleet, their mission will remain important: Navy leadership has said the large combatants of the future will haul around the biggest missiles, including hypersonic weapons.

USS Detroit (LCS-7) sails in formation with the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Lassen (DDG-82), USS Preble (DDG-88) and USS Farragut (DDG-99) while conducting maritime security operations in the Caribbean Sea. US Navy Photo

The Navy is still struggling to figure out how to get the ship it needs for a price it can afford, given the deemphasis on the large combatant portfolio in future fleet plans. What was once a 2023 start to the Large Surface Combatant program was pushed to 2025 and then 2026 – and this year, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said the large combatant, which he calls “DDG-Next,” will begin detail design in 2026 and construction in 2028. New and important to the DMO concept – and the related Marine Corps concepts of Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE) and Expeditionary Advance Base Operations (EABO) – are the Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) and the Next-Generation Logistics Ship (NGLS) programs that kicked off this year. After some Marine Corps officials had kicked around the idea of a stern-landing vessel for EABO operations last year, in February the Navy included in its Fiscal Year 2021 budget request $30 million each to begin working on the new amphib and new logistics ship.

Sea Transport Solutions Image

Throughout the summer, the vision of what LAW would become grew clearer, as the Marines made the case for small units operating outside the Amphibious Ready Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit construct. These units would move from shore to shore, providing the joint force forward refueling and rearming capabilities in remote locations, collecting intelligence, providing anti-ship and even anti-submarine strike capabilities, and more. Their small footprint and maneuverability with the LAWs would make them hard for an adversary to detect and hit. By the fall, a cost estimate of about $100 million apiece, as well as requirements for length, storage capacity, crewing and more emerged, showing the dedication to begin buying the ships in FY 2022. According to the long-range shipbuilding plan that accompanied the release of Battle Force 2045, the Next-Generation Logistics Ship would kick off procurement in FY 2023, though much less is known about that new ship compared to the LAW. This medium-sized ship would be able to help resupply the distributed Navy and Marine forces operating under DMO and EABO, while blending in with local merchant traffic and being harder for an adversary to target and disrupt the flow of supplies into theater. It’s unclear how far along the Navy is in developing its requirements. A previous effort for a somewhat larger set of ships to do resupply and other missions, called the Common Hull Auxiliary Multi-mission Platform (CHAMP), has hit several roadblocks as its price tag remains higher than Navy and White House officials are comfortable spending on an auxiliary ship.

Submarines

Virginia-class submarine Delaware (SSN-791) was moved out of a construction facility into a floating dry dock using a transfer car system in 2018. HII Photo

The Navy in November awarded $9.47 billion to General Dynamics Electric Boat to officially start construction on the first ballistic-missile submarine in the Columbia class. This SSBN program is the Navy’s all-important program with no room for error or delays, after all schedule margin was eaten up in the early days of the program and the future USS Columbia (SSBN-826) must be ready for its first patrol in the fall of 2030. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Columbia program remained on track, in a nod to the importance on the program and the Navy prioritizing resources – available workers, materials and money – to keeping this program on track, even if it means attack submarines or aircraft carriers slipping in schedule. Still, though the program has remained on track, the Navy announced last month it was looking at extending the life of the legacy Ohio-class SSBNs – again – to provide a bit of additional capacity for combatant commanders and a bit of cushion in case there are hiccups in the future with the Columbia program. Partly as a result of keeping Columbia on track, the Virginia-class attack submarines slipped further behind in production this year, after already having some schedule delays as the program tried to maintain a two-a-year production rate. Threatening to further challenge the program was a White House proposal to buy just one SSN in FY 2021, which would throw off the workflow for thousands of suppliers trying to smoothly ramp up their production rates to accommodate both the Virginia and the Columbia programs. The White House reversed course in late November and expressed support for a second Virginia sub. Looking towards the future, the Navy this year made headway planning for its Block VI Virginia design – which would add new capability and lethality such as improved stealth and the ability to conduct seabed warfare – as well as the SSN(X) design that would build upon both Block VI and the Columbia SSBN design. All told, the Navy is trying to morph its attack submarine fleet to something closer to the Seawolf class, which was designed to operate deep into Soviet waters and go head-to-head with peer adversary subs, compared to the Virginia class which was originally designed for land-attack and intelligence-collection missions.

Carrier Aviation

Sailors assigned to the air department aboard the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) prepare to launch an F/A-18F Super Hornet attached to the Gladiators of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 during flight operations, March 29, 2020. US Navy Photo

Even as the Navy continued on with its Ford-class carriers this year, questions began swirling about the class’s future and what might come next to either replace or to supplement the Ford-class supercarrier. In March, Modly kicked off a Blue-Ribbon Future Carrier 2030 Task Force to look at the future of aircraft carriers and whether the U.S. Navy would stick with the Ford class beyond the future Doris Miller (CVN-81), whether it would move to a different nuclear-powered carrier design, or whether it would use conventionally powered carriers. Despite the prominent figures on the task force, it was not particularly well received: any reduction in demand for nuclear ship components could break the fragile industrial base, some worried, while others were concerned that the 11-carrier fleet was already overworked today and that the task force could lead to a reduction in CVNs in the future without a reduction in demand for their presence in theater. Though the study itself was canceled just two months later by Acting SECNAV James McPherson, the idea lingered: former Defense Secretary Mark Esper became interested in the notion of a conventionally powered light carrier to supplement the nuclear-powered supercarrier, and after months of study he settled on a plan to field eight to 11 CVNs – possibly down from today’s 11 – and supplement them with as many as six CVLs. He and Navy officials conceded that much work needed to be done to figure out what the CVL would look like and how to balance the two classes of ships.

Aviation Ordnancemen assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) weapons department bring inert training bombs up to the flight deck during flight operations May 30, 2020. Ford is underway in the Atlantic Ocean conducting integrated air wing operations. US Navy photo.

Despite the questions about the future of carriers, the Ford-class program continued along, with USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) at times spending more days at sea than in port to conduct post-delivery tests and trials and get ready for full-ship shock trials next summer. Despite PDT&T moving ahead of schedule and the troubled Advanced Weapons Elevators finally coming online in numbers, the Navy fired its CVN-78 program manager and brought in a captain with “proven program management acumen and extensive waterfront experience” to see Ford through its remaining work before being fully turned over to the fleet for a maiden deployment.

Aircraft

An F/A-18E Super Hornet, attached to the ‘Dambusters’ of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 195, prepares to land on the flight deck of USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) on Oct. 16, 2020. US Navy Photo

In a major move for carrier aviation, the Navy announced in February in its FY 2021 budget request that it would not continue Super Hornet production beyond the end of the current multiyear contract, which runs through FY 2021. Funding that had been planned for another contract for FY 2022 through 2024 would instead be diverted to “accelerated development of Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) and other key aviation wholeness investments.” With little fanfare, the Navy stood up an NGAD program office under Naval Air Systems Command in May and quickly began industry talks. Though investing in NGAD was the primary reason for ending the Super Hornet line, the Navy also said that stopping new Super Hornet production would free up the production line for Super Hornet life extension work, which the Navy needs to add capability to the jets and keep them around long enough for a replacement to be designed and built.

Sailors assigned to Fleet Logistics Multi-Mission Squadron (VRM) 30 direct a CMV-22B Osprey from the ‘Titans’ of VRM 30 on the flight deck of Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) on Nov. 20, 2020. US Navy Photo

Supporting a near-term change for the carrier air wing, Bell-Boeing delivered the first CMV-22B Osprey to the Navy in February, allowing the Navy to start a short test and evaluation program before turning the aircraft over to the operational squadron that will support the first deployment in 2021. The Navy needs the CMV-22 to serve as its new carrier onboard delivery (COD) platform because the legacy C-2 Greyhound cannot carry a large F-35C engine; the Osprey could carry the engine out to an aircraft carrier and would also have the added flexibility of being able to bring people and supplies directly to the other ships in the strike group, which can support the V-22 landing on their helicopter decks. USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) will make the first deployment with the F-35C in 2021, so the CMV-22 needs to be ready too for that deployment. Looking a few years out, the Navy is making good progress on its MQ-25A Stingray unmanned carrier-based refueling tanker. In April the Navy exercised a contract option to buy three more aircraft from Boeing, and in December the Stingray made its first flight with the refueling system attached under its wings.

Unmanned Systems

Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV) prototype Sea Hunter pulls into Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii on Oct. 31, 2018. US Navy Photo

In other unmanned news, the Navy set off down a path to design and build medium and large unmanned surface vessels of its own, after earlier work had been done with Pentagon-purchased USVs. L3 Technologies in July won a $35-million contract to develop a prototype Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MUSV), with options for eight follow-on craft that could bring the contract to a value of $281 million. In September, the Navy awarded six companies contracts to begin determining what the service’s Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle will look like. Austal USA, Huntington Ingalls Industries, Fincantieri Marinette, Bollinger Shipyards, Lockheed Martin and Gibbs & Cox each won about $7 million for LUSV design studies. Using Pentagon-built prototypes, the Navy operated the Sea Hunter medium USV with a carrier strike group this year, and an Overlord large USV conducted the first-ever autonomous transit of the Panama Canal as it sailed from the Gulf of Mexico to Southern California. In the undersea domain, just this week the Navy released its final request for proposals for the Snakehead Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LDUUV) program, with the intention to select a single vendor next year to begin designing and building two prototypes.

Plans and Budgets

USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and USS Nimitz (CVN-68) and their carrier strike groups (CSGs) steam in formation on July 6, 2020. US Navy Photo

Though many of these moves in 2020 will be instrumental in creating the fleet the Navy and Marine Corps know they need to deter China or win a fight if needed – especially the unmanned vessels, the light amphib and the frigate – the exact future shipbuilding plans for the Navy are still unclear. After the Navy and Marine Corps wrapped up an Integrated Naval Force Structure Assessment in January, Esper did not agree it was the right plan. He ultimately kicked off a Pentagon-led Future Naval Force Study that worked from February to October to look at what the sea services needed to do to be prepared to beat China in a fight in the 2045 timeframe. This effort led to a Battle Force 2045 plan that had all the same themes as the Navy’s original INFSA earlier in the year. The Pentagon couched the differences as a matter of timelines and how aggressively to begin making changes: The Navy had been focused on a 2030 timeframe and what needed to happen quickly to overhaul the fleet in the next decade to support DMO, LOCE and EABO. The Pentagon instead took a longer view meant to incorporate what kind of threat China could ultimately become in the long run and therefore what the Navy and Marines would need to do to counter it – with the expectation that transformation would start now with that 2045 threat in mind. The plan will need buy-in from lawmakers, who have been largely unimpressed with the plans presented to them this year. The original FY 2021 budget request was called “dead on arrival” after it contained the smallest shipbuilding budget in years. The Battle Force 2045 and its accompanying long-range shipbuilding plan was panned for the opposite reason, for being out of touch with budget realities and calling for too quick a naval buildup.