Step Aboard The Navy's $2.4 Billion Virginia-Class Nuclear Submarine

uss virginia

Photo: Christina Shaw / US Navy

The USS Virginia-class submarines are the United State’s newest and most advanced submarine.The first Virginia slipped beneath the waves just eight years ago and  only nine vessels have been completed.

They take more than five years to build and run about $2.4 billion apiece.

Here, we look at the Virginia class of submarines from stern to bow, finding out what makes these ships unique.

We’ll start in the engine room, move our way over the reactor, through the barracks to the command centre and down into the torpedo room. 

The Virginia-class submarine is a new breed of high-tech post-Cold War nuclear subs

The submarines are nearly 400 feet long and have been in service since 2003

The ships were designed to function well in both deep sea and low-depth waters

So far, nine have entered service — here is Cheryl McGuiness, the widow of one of the pilots killed on 9/11, christening the USS New Hampshire

Here are the USS Virginia's engines, which powers a pump-jet propulsor rather than a conventional propeller

This design cuts back on corrosive damage and also makes the ship stealthier

The engine room, near the sub's stern, is the place where power from the SG9 nuclear reactor core drives the ship to nearly 32 mph when it's submerged

This hallway — extending from the engine room, over the reactor and through the living habitat in the centre of the ship — is dark so that sailors can sleep

The ship has an airlock chamber with room for 9 SEALs

The SEALs can exit the sub while its underwater by passing through this airlock

This lock-out chamber is in the centre of the ship

Submariners eat well — the quality of the food is designed to offset the stress and burden of living underwater for months at a time

Going further toward the bow of the sub, the command centre is directly beneath the main sail of the sub and where the navigators do their work

The command centre on the Virginia subs are much more spacious compared previous submarines

The command centre doesn't have to be directly under the deck of the ship in the Virginia-class subs because there isn't a periscope.

The Virginia eliminates the traditional helmsman, planesman, chief of the watch and diving officer by combining them into two stations manned by two officers

The subs are equipped with a spherical sonar array that scans a full 360-degrees

The Virginia subs carry a full crew of 134 sailors

Despite computer navigation systems all routes are plotted manually as well

Down below the command centre is the torpedo room, where it is possible to set up temporary bunks for special operations team

The ships carry up to 12 vertical launch tomahawk missiles and 38 torpedoes

Here an officer on the USS Texas fires water through the torpedo tubes as part of a test

The subs were designed to host the defunct Advanced SEAL Delivery system, a midget submarine that transported the Navy SEALs from the sub to their mission

The only thing in front of the torpedo room is the bow of the submarine, which contains sonar equipment and shielding designed to make the sub stealthier

Even as they are being built, new improvements and upgrades are being added into the design of the submarines

That's what the U.S. has in the works beneath the waves

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