The Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine USS Colorado (SSN-788), the 15th boat of the Virginia-class, was commissioned in a ceremony on March 17 at the Naval Submarine Base New London in Connecticut. The boat was brought to life by her sponsor, Annie Maybus Mabus, daughter of the 75th Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.
Virginia-class SSNs are multipurpose platforms capable of performing a wide range of missions. According to a U.S. Navy statement, the USS Colorado is “the most modern and sophisticated attack submarine in the world,” capable of operating in “both littoral and deep ocean environments” and presenting “combatant commanders with a broad and unique range of operational capabilities.” The boats can be used for anti-submarine/anti-surface warfare operations, among other things.
The USS Colorado is part of the Virginia-class’ Block III contract (Block I and II SSNs have already been delivered to the U.S. Navy) in which the Navy redesigned about 20 percent of the boats, including a redesigned bow with increased payload capabilities. The USS Colorado is the fifth Virginia-class Block III submarine. As I reported previously (See: “US Subs Getting Fire Power Boost”), Block III SSNs are fitted with the so-called Virginia Payload Modules (VPM) replacing the 12 individual Vertical Launch System (VLS) tubes found on Block I and II boats:
While the first 10 Block I and Block II Virginia-class submarines feature 12 individual 21-inch diameter vertical launch tubes able to fire Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMS), “the Block III submarines are built with two-larger 87-inch diameter tubes able to house six TLAMS each,” according to the U.S. Navy website. The new 87-inch tubes have been designed to accommodate future missile systems in addition to the Tomahawk.
In addition, Virginia-class Block III boats are equipped with four torpedo tubes for MK48 torpedoes. Furthermore, next to a redesigned bow, Block III Virginia-class boats also contain “a water-backed Large Aperture Bow (LAB) sonar array that replaces the air-backed sonar sphere found in the first 10 Virginias.” This, in combination with the its so-called fly-by-wire capability, enables the boat to perform important intelligence and surveillance missions.
Interestingly, the USS Colorado is the first SSN where sailors use an Xbox gaming system controller to maneuver the photonics masts. “Also, in Virginia-class SSNs, traditional periscopes have been replaced by two photonics masts that host visible and infrared digital cameras atop telescoping arms, which are maneuvered by a Xbox controller,” the U.S. Navy said in a March 17 statement. “Through the extensive use of modular construction, open architecture, and commercial off-the-shelf components, the Virginia class is designed to remain at the cutting edge for its entire operational life through the rapid introduction of new systems and payloads.”
The USS Colorado was delivered to the Navy in September 2017. In October of last year, the South Dakota, the 17th Virginia-class attack submarine and the seventh Virginia-class Block III submarine, was christened. The Navy has plans for a fleet of 51 Virginia-class attack submarines.