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Columbia Class Submarines Will Influence Next Generation of Navy’s Attack Subs

  • Technology from the Columbia class ballistic submarines that will be developed at General Dynamics Electric Boat will be used in the next generation of attack subs
  • The “SSN(X)” will match the size of the Columbia class, with a wider hull
  • Former Secretary of Defense naval plan calls for three-a-year attack submarine production, though the Navy has not yet signaled this pace to manufacturers

The work currently underway on the Columbia class submarine, the U.S. Navy’s new linen of ballistic missile subs, is expected to influence the next generation of attack submarines.

In an earnings call from BWX Technologies, which builds nuclear reactors for the Navy’s aircraft carriers and submarines, chief executive Rex Geveden said the new attack submarines will be in the same size class as the Columbia class and build off the technology of the ballistic subs. BWX Technologies is a major subcontractor of General Dynamics Electric Boat, which was recently awarded a $9.5 billion contract to build and test the first two submarines in the Columbia class.

Plans for the SSN(X), the moniker for the new class of attack subs until it receives an official name, were first disclosed in 2018. It is expected to go into service sometime in the 2030s and be a faster, stealthier, and more heavily armed boat than the current Virginia class, which had a design focused on signals intelligence and littoral operations.

SSN(X) is expected to have the same 42-foot diameter as the Columbia submarines, six feet wider than the Virginia submarines. The wider hull allows improved stealth, albeit at a more expensive price tag. It also provides more room to incorporate advanced features for speed and firepower, as well as the potential to add in new abilities such as the deployment and retrieval of remotely operated undersea vehicles.

Under the Battle Force 2045 plan unveiled by former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to develop a 500-ship Navy by 2045 to maintain naval supremacy over China, submarines would be prioritized and the U.S. fleet would include at least 70 to 80 attack submarines. This would necessitate the production of three subs a year, but Geveden says the Navy has not yet signaled whether it will need to adopt this pace of construction.

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