A New Breed of Guided Missile Sub May Be Emerging

In case you haven’t seen this, submarine maker Electric Boat is pitching the idea of building a stretched Virginia class attack sub capable of carrying up to 194 Tomahawk cruise missiles. Basically, a 90-foot plug would be put into new boats, allowing them to triple the number of guided missiles they carry.

And yes, it would add $500 million or 20 percent to the overall cost of a Virgnia class boat, but it could be a relatively easy way to make up for the late-2020s retirement of the four-Ohio class boomers that have been converted into guided missile subs.

From The Day newspaper in Connecticut:

The Navy’s Submarine Force will lose about 60 percent of its undersea firepower in the late 2020s with the retirement of its four guided-missile subs, capable of carrying up to 154 Tomahawk missiles. This is happening at the same time that the number of attack submarines in the fleet is dropping because of the retiring of the aging members of the Los Angeles-class subs.

The first “stretch” Virginia could be the sub that EB starts building in 2019, which would be commissioned close to the time that the first guided-missile sub retires.

On the most recent Virginia-class subs, two large-diameter missile tubes located forward of the sail can launch six Tomahawk cruise missiles each. The subs also carry torpedoes.

Extending the submarine to 471 feet would make room for a module near the middle with four additional tubes capable of launching seven missiles each. That would be a 230 percent jump in the number of Tomahawks that can be launched quickly, from 12 to 40.

While the new subs will have to compete budget-wise with the Navy’s Ohio class replacement effort, SSBN-X, sticking lots of missiles on one ship could save a serious amount of operations cash, as the article points out:

Peter W. Singer, director of the 21st Century Defense Initiative and a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, said the stretch Virginia seeks to answer a key problem that the Navy faces, the crunch in the number of submarines overall and the limits in the number of missiles they can deploy. Both problems look to be worsening in the future, he added.

“The Navy is going to face a series of tough decisions budgetwise. But all things being equal, it’s a program we have to give serious consideration towards,” Singer said Tuesday.

The USS Florida was one of the three U.S. submarines that launched Tomahawk missiles into Libya last month to support a no-fly zone. One of the fleet’s four guided-missile submarines, the Florida launched a majority of its Tomahawk missiles, Breckenridge said. Typically, guided-missile submarines deploy with 105 missiles, he added.

“The Navy would’ve needed eight other attack subs in theater to do what that one ship, Florida, did,” he said.

Apparently, the Navy asked Electric Boat to look into the idea a couple of years ago and EB says that it could have the first modified Virgina class sub under construction by 2019.

  • STemplar

    Where does the 194 missiles number come from? Just curious.

    Apart from the number of missiles question, this is a good idea. The SSGNs provide us real deterrence for peanuts compared to some programs.

    • Moose

      I think that number is in error. With 4 more VPTs the max TLAM load in vertical tubes would be 36. 40 if the tubes inside the pressure hull can carry the extra weapon deleted from the external tubes in the bow. You could get that number up by packing the torpedo room full of TLAMS for horizontal launch, but no skipper is going to want to take SSN with no MK 48s anywhere, let alone combat.

  • NashKlein

    3x more misils per sub= 2 fewer subs constructed to maintain firepower and even with only a 20% increase in price per sub that is still like paying for 1.6 subs less. the military is learning to budget, horay!

    • NashKlein

      my bad 1.8 subs less

    • blight

      That also means every sub that goes out of service for refueling or accidents is like pulling three subs off the line. Or god forbid, lost in action against an enemy.

      • Joe Schmoe

        When is the last time a nuclear submarine has been lost in action?

        • NM

          Peacetime attrition rates don’t make a convincing argument to put more eggs in one basket, unless you don’t care what happens to fleet readiness in the event of a true maritime war.

        • FBNC

          Aug 12, 2000

          • blight

            The Kursk? I suppose you’re right. And before that, Scorpion and Thresher. Subsafe put a stop to losses by the Navy, it seems…

  • Oblat

    There is no operational requirement for doing everything the most expensive way possible.

    Put 200 tomahawks on a barge. It’s cheaper faster and makes more sense.

    • Bosco

      Kind of like that put a tank/mobile artilary unit on a barge seen China last year.

      Lets see, big, square, slow vessel needing a tow unit… sounds like an ease fat target if you ask me.

      • guest

        Target for whom? When you control the air & sea?

        • http://twitter.com/Earlydawn @Earlydawn

          Uh, if you control the air and sea, why are you using one million-dollar ballistic missiles? Fly in the biggest, cheapest platform you have with the biggest bomb load and go to town..

    • STemplar

      Pray tell how is a barge faster than a VA class sub? What non sense. To say nothing of more survivable, the ability to leave on station for months, by pass anti access weaponry. You’re an inflammatory knob.

      • Oblat

        Where is the operational need for it to be faster ?

        • Nadnerbus

          So you don’t see how a large, slow, unarmored, completely vulnerable barge with a couple hundred million dollars worth of advanced guided cruise missiles might not be survivable in a possible war scenario? Are you that obtuse?

          • Oblat

            name one of our wars in the last 50 years where it wouldn’t survive

          • Nadnerbus

            That’s not the point. If you want a TLAM storage container floating off the coast of a trouble area, fine. That’s why all of our destroyers and cruisers carry them too. They are the visible, somewhat more vulnerable offensive punch. The SSGN fleet is a deterrent precisely because they are not visible, yet can be just about anywhere at any time. They don’t, however, carry around their own integrated air defense network with them, so the whole underwater stealth thing is kind of important.

            If you want a missile barge, I guess that could be useful. It’s just not even in the same job category as what the SSGNs offer.

          • Joe Schmoe

            Actually, he brings up a good idea.

            SSGN’s are basically underwater barges with lots of tomahawks (for all intents and purposes. Why not make a UUV barge loaded with Tomahawks that can be towed by a mother sub to a conflict area and left there until needed. Not much different than a mine on principle.

            And would probably cost less*.

            * - Before the defense contractors screw it up.

          • blight

            What would probably work better is designing some like CAPTOR mines that can be kept underwater, then launch TLAMs on command. Not sure how one would relay launch instructions and target coordinates, but it would allow for clandestine dispersion of TLAMs, and quick launch rather than having a ship move into position. Alternatively, they can be hidden in places where a ship might be vulnerable.

            TLAMs can be launched through submarine torpedo tubes, so they have some degree of underwater functionality; but not sure how deep underwater they can be fired. Scariest-case scenario, one could park underwater TLAM launchers in the continental shelf, and then when you piss someone off cause a bunch of TLAMs to just shoot out of the water, long before ships can move into position and open fire. It would probably not be very cheap at all…

          • guest

            Think about the concept of simple & cheap rather than nit pick the details. The NAVy lacks gunfire support. The BB’s are all Museums, The CA’s are gone. What we need Is not Billion dollar Destroyers.

        • STemplar

          When you are firing off a load of weapons and are interested in not being hit or trying to un@$$ the AO, speed is nice. Doink.

        • STemplar

          There is plenty of operational need in all war to be undetectable as possible. Then there is the fact a barge can’t also serve as an attack sub, deliver SPECOPs, mine harbors, conduct surveillance, enforce blockades, etc. Is a barge a cheaper way to solely move TLAMs to a war zone? Yes, do we have the budget to hyper specialize like that? No. Is the VA class worth expanding? Lets see, the single most advanced vehicle on the planet and it’s on time and UNDER budget, yah, I think that’s worthy.

          • Riceball

            Don’t mention that a barge would only be useful in the calmest of seas otherwise you risk capsizing them. Not to mention that a barge would be very vulnerable to an Iranian speed boat navy or even Somali pirates armed with nothing more than AKs and RPGs.

    • Tiger

      I like your thought process. However change to platform to a Tanker. A simple off the shelf platform. Place VLS tubes where the oil tanks go. Has her own power & has DDG’s for defense. Like a tanker, it only requires a small crew to run. In a pinch, IT acts like a Q ship. Thus avoids detection by it’s civilian looks. A Tanker could carry 200 VLS tubes with ease. With control of the air & no sea threat, it is the kind of weapon you need for Libya & other spots.

      • Old_Bear

        Actually, why not use a modified container ship, with the TLAMS being carried in modified containers on the ship’s hull. You could also modify the containers to carry the MGM-140 ATACMS as well.
        If you think about it you could modfiy a large number of different weapon systems and aircraft to be carried by a container ship. If you remember we used the Atlantic Conveyor to carry both Sea Harriers and Helicopters down to the South Atalntic during the Falkland’s War nearly thirty years ago,
        Just do some unorthodox thinking for a change. My biggest worry is that the Iranians might beat us to it and convert a Container Ship to carry both Cruise and Ballistic Missiles as well as UCAV’s covertly and then attack either the UK or the US.

        • blight

          Club K?

  • blight

    Stretch subs are kind of normal. The Soviets and the United States did this waybackwhen.

    And if we can launch Comorants or Comorant-style vehicles out of Tomahawk VLS tubes…

  • http://covertshores.blogspot.com/ TLAM Strike

    They should build an underwater barge loading with Tomahawks that can be towed by any submarine to a target area, much like the Germans planned to do with their V-2 rockets.

    • orly?

      not very smart at all, please learn common sense

    • moose

      Offboard payloads are coming, they’ll be a bit more sophisticated than a “barge.”

    • Riceball

      I rather doubt that a sub skipper would like having a trailer attached to his sub, that would mean a reduction in his top speed, a huge blind spot behind him because he would no longer be able to deploy his towed array, and quite possibly also be very noisy and if there’s one thing that sub drivers hate that’s noise.

  • William C.

    We won’t have a replacement for the Tomahawk in service by the late 2020s?

  • Tom

    ArcLight and LRASM (Long Range Anti Ship). Both compatible with the Mk41 VLS. I for myself doubt that ArcLight will ever join the fleet. But I really keep my fingers crossed for the LRASM. This is a capability gap the Navy should fill.

    • blight

      I find it interesting that the US has opted for greater capability in slower cruise missiles and the Russians continue to move towards faster and faster cruise missiles. Differing design objectives?

  • Tad

    Sounds like a great idea as long as the “90-foot plug” doesn’t cause the boat to break apart like the Coast Guard’s Deep Water boats.

    • FormerDirtDart

      I haven’t heard of the Jimmy Carter breaking up yet.

  • Moose

    We already converted 4 Ohios to fire TLAM. The problem is that they’re not new boats, subs wear out and the Ohios’ service life runs out in the 2020s.

  • Steve B.

    “Why not modify the Ohio class subs to fire alot of Tomahawks and keep money to build regular Virgina and updated LA class subs?”

    They did, this is for when the 4 existing Ohio class that carry cruise will need to be retired.

    • Lance

      Easy build more and newer Ohios then.

  • juan234

    194? The other stories I’ve read on this say the plan is to increase the TLAM load from 12 to 40.

  • FormerDirtDart

    The Ohios modified to SSGNs were the oldest boats in the class.

    • Nadnerbus

      They were still only at their midlife refueling point though. I forget why they were being retired as boomers, cold war cuts or START treaty or something. But they still had useful hull lives left. The rest of the Ohios wont by they time the are retired from service as boomers. That was my impression anyway.

  • William C.

    The Tomahawk works great, but I’d hope by the late 2020s we would have a mix of subsonic LO cruise missiles (think stealthy Tomahawks) and a shorter ranged supersonic or hypersonic cruise missile.

    • William C.

      At least I would presume a supersonic or hypersonic cruise missile would be shorter range than a subsonic design. But maybe Prompt Global Strike will come up with something interesting.

    • STemplar

      The latest block TLAMs are s progressive step. They have loiter time as well as integrated cameras for ISR. The JASSM is a stealthy cruise missile essentially, the ER version due out in a couple three years will have almost 600m range I believe. Not sure if they would be VLS cell compatible, but B1s can carry 24.

  • bigRick

    I think Oblat needs to put his hemp sack cloth back on and re-fill his bong pipe. Oblat I can’t believe that you escaped Berkeley on your own accord, I think it was an inside job.

  • guest

    Simpler to buy a oil tanker. Replace tanks with missile tubes.


    No you cannot simply put 194 cruise missiles on a barge, especially not when you want to be stealthy and not advertise your presence.

    What you can do is convert some of the SSBN Ohio class submarines for this duty as under the new missile agreement with Russia; the US will not be able to have so many Trident II SLBMs and instead of trashing the investment, you can recycle the Ohio class subs to be launch platforms for cruise missiles.

  • DurkMcGurk

    Surface to fire or make the mast the rail gun so you just have to run tower awash?

    • briah

      I am not sure, but ,mounting it on a tower would probably make more sense. that way you wouldn’t have to expose the whole sub. the only downside is that it wold probably take more more time to develop.

  • Belesari

    Oblat: “name one of our wars in the last 50 years where it wouldn’t survive”

    Well judging from the condition of the USS stark during operation desert storm and the amount of other missiles fired at our ships you would have one sunk 500 million+ dollar barge.

    So yea its a f**ken stupid idea.

    But then again what is this futuristic war your talking about we only march in columns and uses muskets because war never changes.

    Thank god the chinese and Russians dont sell weapons to our nations enemies……….oh wait.


    Anyways i like the idea just hope they could pull it off.

  • Shail

    The TLAM idea is nice, and has proven very effective from subs and surface ships.
    But here, I’m wondering if this might be a good reason to renew interest in the lengthened POLAR-variant of the MLRS rocket (Precision, Over-the-horizon Land Attack Rocket).
    With an anticipated range of ~200km, if we could combine that with the ~90kg unitary warhead of the current G-MLRS, that could create a useful weapon for when Tomahawk types are too overkill.
    We could probably modify a TLAM VLS cell to house 3 or 4 POLARs instead, similar to how the Ohio SSGNs modified Trident tubes to house 7 TLAMs each instead.
    With the 155mm AGS system of the DDG1000s becoming a cost monster, and railguns and guided hypervelocity rounds still too far away (and expensive), a new POLAR to complement TLAMs would be VLS-adaptable to a majority of subs, frigates, and destroyers.

  • howard

    i’d also suggest that the range and speed of the tomahawks

    needs adjusted to match the Chinese and Indian ship

    killers…. who decided in the post Russian era to not

    develop these things i’ll never know.

    maybe the system could throw a mix of shorter and longer

    faster tubes.