The USS Virginia—America's Newest Nuclear Sub
By Captain Ray Wellborn, Instructor,
Applied Technology Institute
On July 4, 2004, the U.S. Navy commissioned the lead ship in a new class of nuclear-powered attack sub-marine: USS VIRGINIA (SSN 774).
The new submarine warship is 377 feet in length, 34 feet in the beam, has a draft of 30.5 feet at the designer’s waterline and displaces 7,800 dead weight tons submerged. She can accommodate a ship’s company of 134 including 14 officers.
VIRGINIA’s length-to-breadth ratio of 11.09 is com-parable to an 11.01 for LOS ANGELES-Class submarines with a 33-foot beam, and is somewhat more than SEAWOLF’s 8.4 with a 42-foot beam, but a little less than Ohio’s 13.3, also with a 42-foot beam.
Officially, the U.S. Nary will neither confirm nor deny any U.S. submarine’s speed to be greater than 20 knots, nor any test-depth to be greater than 400 feet.
According to open liter- attire, however, VIRGINIA is powered by a S9G pressurized water reactor, made by General Electric, which will not require re-coring for the life of the ship./ Her propulsion plant is rated to produce 40,000 shaft horsepower for a single shaft, and sustain a maximum rated submerged speed of 34 knots.
The wall-thickness and diameter of VIRGINIA’s inner pressure hull of cold- rolled, high-yield strength steel, with scrupulously designed hull-penetrations and conscientious seam-welds, allows submarine design engineers to impose a safe-diving test-depth of 1,600 feet. Furthermore, this innovative design reduces the number
of needed hull-penetrations with eight non-hull penetrating antennae packages.
To meet yet another top-level requirement VIRGINIA is fitted with SEAWOLF-level acoustic quietness for stealth, as well as acoustic tile cladding for active acoustic signal absorption.
For additional tasking, VIRGINIA is fitted with an integral nine-man lockout chamber for use with the Advanced SEAL (sea, air and land) Delivery System (ASDS), which essentially is a mini-submarine capable of dry-delivery of a SEAL team. Moreover, the internal torpedo magazine space arrangement can be adapted to provide 2,400 cubic feet of space for up to 40 SEAL team members arid their equipment. And, VIRGINIA is capable of carrying and operating advanced unmanned underwater vehicles, wake-homing detection equipment and a deployable active hi-static sonar source.
VIRGINIA is an extremely capable submarine and, in the hands of a well- trained, experienced ship’s company skilled in the operational arts of submarine warfare, has an incisive ability for both deep-ocean and shallow- water operations of all kinds, including antisubmarine warfare.
So, for comparison to early strivings for more precise navigation on the open sea, consider the most sophisticated state-of-the art computer-data processors, which precisely calculate the output of an absolutely ingenious arrangement of gyros and accelerometers as they sense the slightest nano-scale movement. This ever-so-precise, self-contained navigational system is fitfully named SINS, the Ship’s Inertial Navigation System. In the modem era, the encapsulated inner workings of SINS can be held in the palm of your hands.
But, at the top of the list, are the technological advancements resident in the Common Submarine Radio Room (CSRR) in that a U.S. submarine can be in constant communication with the submarine operating authority while submerged at sea anywhere in the oceans of the world
For perspective and historical comparison of technological advances, note that the first nationally authorized submarine warship was not officially commissioned until 1900, while the first trans-Atlantic radio-telegraph was not operational until 1901.
VIRGINIA’s modern CSRR for entering the 21st century is for a worldwide battle space. A modernized ship self-defense system will replace the advanced combat direction system in VIRGINIA-Class upgrades.
All the software programs for the command-control system module in VIRGINIA are compatible with the Joint Military Command Information System. The Global Command-Control System (GCCS) is a multi-service information management system for maritime users that displays and disseminates data through an extensive array of common interfaces. GCCS is also a multi-service information management system for maritime users that can display and disseminate data through an extensive array of common interfaces. GCCS is also a multi-sensor data-fusion system for command analyses and decision- making. Thus, in the main, it is utilized for overall force coordination The ocean surveillance information system receives, processes, displays and disseminates joint-service information regarding fixed and mobile targets on land and at sea.
The innovative design of the upgraded Automated Digital Network System (ADNS) encompasses all
radio frequency circuits for routing and switching both strategic and tactical command control communication computer information (C41) with an internet-like transmission control protocol. In doing so, ADNS links battle group units with each other and with the digital information system network. The ADNS now has 224 ship-based units, and four shore-based sites. Network operation centers are linked to three naval computer and telecommunication area master stations, plus one in the Persian Gulf at Bahrain.
The Global Broadcast Service is the follow-on for U.S. Navy ultra-high- frequency radio communication via satellite. By 2009, the advanced wide- band system will be the communication upgrade for all U.S. submarines and surface ships, and there is a version planned for U.S. aircraft installation that is under study,
Virginia's combat system suite satisfies a top-level requirement to counter multiple threats with a mission-essential-need statement that details a very effective set of acoustic sensors. The suite features two reel-able towed, linear sonar arrays, the TB-l6 and the thin-line TB-29. Just inside the thin-skinned acoustic window in the bow section of the outer hull is a very sophisticated, state-of-the-art active-passive spherical sonar array, the AN/BQQ-5E.
In addition, there are wide-aperture flank-mounted passive sonar arrays; a keel and fin-mounted high sonic frequency active sonar for under-the-ice ranging and maneuvering, and for mine detection and avoidance; a medium sonic frequency active sonar for target ranging; a sonar sensor for intercept of active-ranging signals from an attacking torpedo; and, a self- noise acoustic monitoring system.
Moreover, all acoustic systems have advanced signal processors and, where appropriate, algorithms are programmed for beam forming.
The Electronic System Measures suite features the AN/BRD-7F radio direction finder; the electronic signal monitors, AN/WLR-lH and AN/WLR-8(V2/6); the AN/WSQ-5 and AN/BLD-1 radio frequency intercept periscope-mounted devices; and the AN/WLQ-4(V1), AN/WLR-l0 and AN/BLQ-l0 radar warning devices. The AN/BPS-15A and BPS-16 are I and J-band navigational piloting radars, respectively, with each having separate wave-guides—one mounted inside a retractable mast and the
other mounted inside a periscope.
Virginia has four 21-inch-diameter internally loaded torpedo tubes with storage cradles for a combination of an additional 22 torpedoes, missiles, mines, and 20-foot-long, 21-inch diameter Autonomous Underwater Vehicles.
In the free-flooding area between the outer and inner hulls, just aft of the bow-mounted AN/BQQ-5E spherical sonar array is Virginia’s Vertical Launch System, comprised of twelve externally loaded 21-inch diameter launch tubes for Tomahawk, the Sea-Launched-Cruise-Missile (SLCM).
Shallow water is an anathema for submariners because submarines on the surface are exceptionally vulnerable. Thus, it is said that the best place to sink a submarine is while it is in port. Does that mean that Virginia cannot operate effectively in shallow water?Absolutely not!
Another disconcerting imprecation to submariners is hearing the high-pitch “pings— active sonar accompanied by the shrill of cavitations from small, high-speed screws, which are the distinctive sounds of an acoustic torpedo running to ruin your entire day.
French author Jules Verne (1825-1905) entertained readers with exciting tales of undersea adventure featuring his fictional submarine Nautilus in his book 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Notably, USS Nautilus (SSN 571) logged much more than 20,000 leagues under the sea—like, 80,000 nautical mile before her first re-coring, and Virginia will log over 125,000 leagues of submerged steaming in her service life-- without refueling.
The nuclear-powered submarine is a far-ranging, very effective, versatile warship for the 21st century—and, the projection of national power by ASDS and SLCMs from international waters only requires unilateral action by the National Command Authority.
Over a 30-year U.S. Navy career Captain Ray Wellborn served some 13 years in submarines. He graduated with a B.S. from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1959, a M.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1969, and a M.A. from the Naval War College in 1976. He was a senior lecturer for marine engineering at Texas A&M University Galveston from 1992 to 1996, and currently is a consultant for maritime affairs, and a once-a-year part-time instructor for the Applied Technology Institute’s three-day course titled “Introduction to Submarines—and, Their Combat Systems.