Asia Defense | Security

US Navy to Arm Virginia-Class Attack Subs With New Hypersonic Weapon

The Navy aims to deploy its conventional prompt strike hypersonic weapon on Virginia-class attack submarines.

Franz-Stefan Gady
US Navy to Arm Virginia-Class Attack Subs With New Hypersonic Weapon
Credit: U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy intends to deploy its conventional prompt strike (CPS) hypersonic weapon on Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN), according to the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget overview.

“The CPS program develops warfighting capability to enable precise and timely strike capability in contested environments across surface and sub-surface platforms,” reads the budget document, according to USNI News.

“The Navy’s CPS program will design a missile comprised of a Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) and a 34.5 inch two-stage booster. The program is pursuing an [initial operational capability] of FY 2028 in which the missile will be fielded on a Virginia class submarine with Virginia Payload Module [VPM].”

The Navy’s Strategic Systems Program office conducted a successful flight test of a booster and glider in October 2017. The booster and glider, launched from land, reportedly flew over 2,000 nautical miles from Hawaii to the Marshall Islands.  A second test firing of the new weapon system is expected to take place this year.

The VPM consists of larger-diameter tubes that replace 12 individual vertical launch tubes on the Block I and Block II Virginia class and increase the sub’s missile payload at reduced overall cost. As I explained elsewhere:

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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 boats are built with two larger 87-inch diameter tubes able to house six TLAMS each (…) The  (…) 87-inch tubes have been designed to accommodate future missile systems in addition to the Tomahawk.

Block IV Virginia-class SSNs also feature two VPM launch tubes, while Block V SSNs will have an additional VPM mid-body section with 28 additional missile tubes, for a total of 40 missiles per SSN.

Block V SSNs will be capable of firing up to 28 TLAMS from its four VPM launch tubes, in addition to 12 TLAMS that can be launched from the sub’s bow.

General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries’ (HII) Newport News Shipbuilding were awarded a $22 billion contract by the U.S. Navy in 2019 for the building and delivery of nine Virginia-class Block V SSNs.

Construction of the latest batch of Virginia-class SSNs is expected to start this year with deliveries scheduled from 2025 through 2029.

“VPM will provide the Navy with undersea strike capability that currently resides with Ohio-class guided-missile submarines [SSGN], and the flexibility to host a variety of payloads,” HII said in December 2019.

The Navy has also deliberated over putting the CPS hypersonic weapon on the Ohio class.