- With an eye on rivals Russia and China, the US Navy is looking at potential new payloads for the service’s most technologically advanced submarines.
- The newer Virginia-class attack submarines will feature the Virginia Payload Module, which gives this sub the kind of strike firepower the ageing Ohio-class guided-missile subs are capable of delivering.
- The VPM also offers new opportunities, as it could serve as a launch platform for new land-attack missiles and possibly even undersea drones.
The US Navy is getting creative with the weapons payloads of the Virginia-class submarines, one of the deadliest and most technologically advanced subs in the world.
The Virginia Payload Module (VPM), a weapons system intended to give the late-block Virginia-class attack submarines (SSNs) a bit more punch, was initially viewed solely in the context of giving these submarines the kind of firepower seen on the ageing Ohio-class guided-missile submarines (SSGNs).
“We were only really allowed to talk about it as a replacement for SSGN strike,” Program Executive Office for Submarines Executive Director George Drakeley said at last week’s Naval Submarine League symposium, USNI News reported Thursday. “The handcuffs are off now, and lately we’ve been talking about other capabilities,” he said at the event.
The US Navy awarded BAE Systems a contract earlier this year to develop new payload tubes – the new VPMs – for two Block V Virginia-class submarines, Defence News reported in June. One of the four VPM tubes reportedly has the ability to carry and launch up to seven Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles (TLAMs). This technology can triple the sub’s payload capacity, significantly boosting its firepower.
There are also opportunities to innovate and apply this technology to new missions, a necessity as the US refocuses its efforts on preparation for high-end conflict with rival powers. “We’re in a great power competition now, and so we need to be focusing on other potential capabilities,” Drakeley told those in attendance.
Both Russia and China are increasingly advancing their undersea warfighting capabilities. “In the undersea domain, the margins to victory are razor thin,” Adm. James G. Foggo III, the commander of US Naval Forces Europe-Africa, told Pentagon reporters in October.
A new report evaluating the National Defence Strategy, which also highlights the threat posed by great power competition, recommended the US bolster its submarine force. But numbers are not everything, as capability is also key.
“We have to get past the days of just ADCAP (advanced capability Mk 48 heavyweight torpedo) and TLAM (Tomahawk land-attack missile) as being our two principle weapons,” Rear Adm. John Tammen, the director of undersea warfare on the staff of the chief of naval operations, explained to attendees.
Tammen told USNI News that the surface warfare community is looking into a next-generation land-attack weapon, and the undersea warfare directorate would then look at ways to adapt it to the VPM, giving the Virginia-class subs an alternative to the Tomahawks.
At the same time, the Navy is also interested in VPM-launched unmanned undersea vehicles, but the pairing process has proven something of a challenge.
This new technology, as long with new torpedo systems, could potentially be seen on the Block VI and VII Virginia-class SSNs.