The United States Navy wants to add up to 28 additional Tomahawk cruise missiles to each vessel of its growing Virginia-class submarine fleet, according to DoD Buzz. An evaluation process about the feasibility of this upgrade is currently underway.
“The service plans to begin production of what’s called Virginia Payload Modules, or VPM, onto Block V submarines by 2019 — a move which would add a new section of missile tubes to the ship and increase its ability to fire Tomahawk missiles from 12 up to 40,” the article notes.
Between 2002 to 2008, the U.S. Navy turned four of its oldest Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) into nuclear-powered cruise missile vessels (SSGN). The four subs — the USS Ohio, USS Michigan, USS Florida and USS Georgia — are expected to remain in service until 2023 to 2026. The U.S. Navy will gradually begin retiring one boat after another during that time frame.
This will result in massive loss of fire power for the U.S. Navy, since each converted Ohio-class SSGN can carry up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles each.
“When the SSGNs retire in the 2020s – if no action is taken the Navy will lose about 60-percent of its undersea strike launchers. When we design and build VPM and start construction in 2019, that 60-percent shortfall will become a 40-percent shortfall in the 2028 timeframe. Over time as you build VPM you will eliminate the loss of firepower. The rationale for accelerating VPM is to potentially mitigate that 40-percent to a lower number,” Capt. David Goggins, the Virginia-class submarine program manager explained.
According to DoD Buzz, the Virginia-class submarines are being built in block increments with block I and block II delivered to the U.S. Navy. The feasibility study mentioned above concerns block I and II submarines and vessels already under construction that are scheduled to be completed before 2019.
Block III submarines will already be built with the new Virginia Payload Modules (VPM). “With the Virginia Payload Modules, we’re adding a body section that will house four additional Virginia Payload Tubes. That will allow you to go from 12 to 40 Tomahawks – that is the main driver or requirement for this new module,” Goggins explained.
The Navy plans to field a fleet of 51 Virginia-class submarines by 2033, with an expected service life of 33 years. Out of this fleet, 20 ships are supposed to be equipped with the new VPM. The good news for the U.S. Navy is that it will not run out of Tomahawk cruise missiles anytime soon; it has a stockpile of of around 3,500 missiles of all variants worth approximately $2.6 billion.