The U.S. Navy is designing a big, powerful attack submarine to fight the wars of the future. The new class will be considerably larger and more capable than the current Virginia class, with an emphasis on undersea combat. The new sub, SSN(X) will be a quiet, deep diving, heavily armed submarine meant to take on all comers in the mid 21st century.
Traditionally, the U.S. Navy’s nuclear attack submarine (SSN) fleet was given the mission of chasing down enemy surface fleets and attack submarines. This hunter-killer role required a submarine to locate enemy ships, stalk them, and then unleash a deadly ambush with missiles and torpedoes.
This necessitated nuclear propulsion, a deep diving capability, powerful sonar, and long range guided weapons. This resulted in today’s Seawolf class. The three Seawolf submarines weigh 9,138 tons submerged, practically fly underwater at 35 knots, are equipped with eight torpedo tubes, and can dive to 2,000 feet.
The U.S. built only three Seawolf submarines from the late 1990s to early 2000s. Although the most advanced submarines ever built, the implosion of the Soviet Navy at the end of the Cold War effectively left them without an adversary. The projected cost was $33 billion for just 12 submarines. The Navy truncated the program to just 3 subs, each of which cost $4.4 billion each, and turned its attention to developing the smaller, more versatile, more affordable Virginia class. The Virginia boats have just four torpedo tubes and are limited to a depth of just 800 feet, but they are better suited to supporting a broader mission set, including intelligence collection and deploying Navy SEALs.