Updated 8:44 AM EDT, Wed, Aug 18, 2021

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US Navy Increases Lethality of Virginia-class Nuclear Subs to Negate China’s A2/AD Strategy


(Photo : US Navy) Virginia Payload Module concept

The U.S. Navy is transforming its Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines (SSNs) into very heavily armed underwater "battleships" with more than enough missile tube firepower to invalidate China's anti-access/area denial (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.

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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 planned to 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 anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) such as the DF-21D. China's A2/AD strategy, however, is ineffective against submerged submarines launching cruise missiles.

The relative immunity of U.S. Navy SSNs from Chinese ASBM attacks makes it an ideal platform for launching attacks on warships of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Increasing the offensive payload of the Virginia boats with VPMs is a key step in this direction.

Construction of the first VPM boat is set for 2019 with completion expected by 2025. The first VPM tube fabrication begins in April 2017. The second sub of the planned Block V, identified as SSN 803, will be engineered with an integrated VPM.

The last 20 ships of the class in Blocks V, VI and VII will have integrated VPMs.

The Virginia class, also known as the SSN-774 class, are fast attack submarines designed for a broad spectrum of open-ocean and littoral (shallow coastal water) missions.

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