The U.S. Navy took delivery of its latest Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarine, the future USS South Dakota (SSN 790), during a ceremony at General Dynamics Electric Boat Shipyard in Groton, Connecticut, on September 24.
The South Dakota, laid down in 2013, is the 17th Virginia-class attack submarine and the seventh Virginia-class Block III submarine. The boat is expected to be commissioned in early 2019.
Virginia-class attack Block III submarines are fitted with the so-called Virginia Payload Module (VPM) – two large-diameter tubes that replace 12 individual vertical launch tubes and increase the ship’s missile payload at a lower cost. As I explained previously:Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
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.
Virginia-class SSNs are multipurpose platforms capable of performing a wide range of operations including anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface ship warfare, strike warfare, special operations forces support, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, irregular warfare and mine warfare missions. As I wrote in October 2017, the USS South Dakota will be one of the most advanced sub ever to enter service with the U.S. Navy:
According to Kris Osborn over at Scout Warrior, the South Dakota is the most technologically advanced nuclear attack submarine ever developed by the U.S. Navy. It reportedly features a host of technological innovations including quieting technology for the engine room, quieting coating materials for the sub’s hull, and a new large vertical array.
These new technological insertions are all build around the U.S. Navy’s concept of “acoustic superiority” to make the submarine stealthier while conducting operations. A heavy focus is reportedly being placed on the development passive acoustic sensors to detect enemy submarines at longer distances. (The U.S. Navy has also been working on active sonar technology to be fitted on undersea drones for early detection enemy undersea movement.)
The new sub has been a “technology demonstrator to prove out advanced technologies,” Naval Sea Systems Command Spokeswoman Colleen O’Rourke told Scout Warrior. “Lessons learned from South Dakota will be incorporated into Block V and later Virginia Class submarines, increasing our undersea domain advantage and ensuring our dominance through the mid-century and beyond,” O’Rourke added.
The U.S. Navy plans to commission a total of 51 Virginia-class attack submarines. The future USS Indiana (SSN 789), will be commissioned at the Navy Port at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Port Canaveral, Florida on September 29. The 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.