Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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US Navy to Deploy New Virginia-class Attack Submarines to Asia

Asian shark

(Photo : US Navy) USS Texas, a Virginia-class attack submarine, at drydock during her construction. She now patrols Asia.

The U.S. Navy will send the first of its new and better armed Virginia-class attack submarines being built or soon to be built to patrol Asia and the Pacific Ocean in recognition of the growing threat posed by China and its land- and sea-based ballistic missile force.

The Navy's submarine pivot to Asia comes at a time when the Navy faces a shortage of attack submarines (SSNs) in the 2020s. The Navy claims it can head-off an impending and dangerous shortfall in the numbers of its operational attack submarines by doubling the annual production of its potent Virginia-class (SSN-774) subs.

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Doubling will mean increasing to two subs from one the number of subs rolling-off the shipyards of General Dynamics Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding, the boat's builders, every year.

The Navy's decision to pivot its attack sub fleet to Asia is vital given China's growing ability to hit the United States with nuclear missiles. The Navy enjoys a huge technological advantage in submarine warfare over the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), an edge it intends to maintain in the coming decades.

"With the right missile China now has the maritime capability to strike directly at the homeland ... they are now the second nation that possesses the ability to do that. There is not just one country able to do that but two, underscoring the important of strategic deterrence," said Rear Admiral Charles Richard, Director of Undersea Warfare at the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

Adm. Richards has been nominated for promotion to the rank of Vice Admiral and for assignment as Deputy Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. 

Navy commanders are appealing to Congress to help them fast track the building of more Virginia-Class submarines that will join the United States Pacific Fleet based in Hawaii.

Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr., Commander, United States Pacific Command, told Congress earlier this year he would like to see more submarines in his area of operations.

"The Pacific is the principle space where submarines are the most important warfighting capability we have. As far as Virginia-Class submarines, it is the best thing we have," said Adm. Harris to Congress.

"As I mentioned before, we have a shortage in submarines. My submarine requirement is not met in PACOM (Pacific Command)."

The Navy is also turning its Virginia-class SSNs into very heavily armed underwater weapons systems with more than enough missile tube firepower to invalidate China's A2/AD strategy in the Asia.

Called "Virginia Payload Modules," (VPMs) the new missile tubes will increase each Virginia's load of UGM-109 Tomahawk sub-sonic cruise missiles to 40 from 12 by adding 28 more missile tubes. The VPMs will more than triple the offensive strike capability of the Virginia-class SSNs. Each module consists of four 87-inch vertical payload tubes.

The new missile tubes now being built and assembled will equip the 10 Block V subs, the next generation to the Block IV now in service. The U.S. Navy has 12 active Virginia boats out of 48 that will be built until 2043. Five boats are building.

Increasing its undersea strike capability is vital to the Navy's plans to degrade China's A2/AD strategy aimed at keeping U.S. surface warships as far away from the Chinese mainland as possible using ASBMs such as the DF-21D.

China's A2/AD strategy, however, is ineffective against submerged submarines launching cruise missiles.

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