The USN continues to shape its plans to field a new type of attack submarine that RADM Bill Houston, Director of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations Undersea Warfare Division, has described as the ultimate maritime ‘apex predator’.
Speaking on 21 July during a virtual event ahead of the Navy League Sea-Air-Space conference on 1-4 August, Houston said that the SSN(X) design would be timed to enter production as work on Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines ramps down.
Houston added: ‘We are looking at the ultimate apex predator for the maritime domain; it is going to be faster, carry a significant punch, bigger payload, [and] larger salvo rate.’
He noted that SSN(X) will ‘have acoustic superiority’ and work is going into ‘operational availability with respect to maintenance and life of the ship’.
Looking towards the future attack submarine, Houston said that the USN was taking what it already knew how to do from other classes of vessels and combining this to design the new boat.
Hence, in its SSN(X) design, the USN wants to combine the payload capacity of Seawolf-class boats with the acoustic and sensor prowess of the Virginia-class and the availability and service life of the Columbia-class.
‘That is going to be what I’m going to call SSN(X), the apex predator, because it really needs to be ready for those major combat operations, it’s going to need to be able to go behind enemy lines and deliver that punch that is going to really establish our primacy.’
Going further, Houston said that SSN(X) would need to be able to deny adversaries the ability to operate in ‘their own bastions’.
He added that the programme would be a ‘daunting task’, but he was confident it could be achieved.
‘We are looking at the ultimate apex predator for the maritime domain’— RADM Bill Houston, CNO Undersea Warfare Division
Speaking during the same panel session, Kevin Graney, president of General Dynamics Electric Boat, said the future SSN(X) would be about speed, punching power, and acoustic superiority.
Graney said that while he would love to see requirements ‘settled down’, General Dynamics and the USN were getting ‘more in-sync’ as time passes.
He added: ‘From my perspective, we’ve got the design team coming off of Columbia right now. They’re a hot hand, having just developed that, and now’s the time to transition to the new SSN(X) design. We’re ready to go.’
Despite confident goals for the programme, the evolution of SSN(X) could yet hit an impasse as funding pressures force the USN to prioritise either the new submarine, the DDG(X) next-generation destroyer or the Next Generation Air Dominance fighter aircraft.
In its FY2022 budget request, the USN requested $98 million in funding for the SSN(X) programme.
Shephard Defence Insight notes that the Seawolf-class was developed to follow the Los Angeles-class submarines as a faster and more substantially armed replacement.
The first of three submarines was commissioned in 1997; however, procurement of the Seawolf submarines was eventually curtailed in favour of the Virginia-class.
The Virginia-class boats are fitted with the latest sensors and weapons, giving them an unrivalled capability for sea control, land attack, electronic warfare and special operations.
The FY2021 US defence budget estimated the total acquisition cost of the Columbia class at $109.8 billion. The first boat is expected to be delivered in 2027 for further outfitting and it is expected to be commissioned around 2031.