The Navy is doing “early concept design work” on the “Virginia Payload Module” (VPM), which would allow future additions to the Virginia-class submarine fleet to fire up to 40 Tomahawk land-attack missiles, up from the current maximum of 12, Rear Adms. Richard Breckenridge and David Johnson wrote in a joint statement. The two admirals testified before the House Armed Services Committee’s seapower panel at a hearing on undersea warfare.
The extra Tomahawk capacity is needed because the Navy plans to retire its four guided-missile submarines (SSGNs) from 2026 to 2028, the admirals said. Each SSGN typically carries 105 Tomahawks.
The officials described the VPM as a “low-risk effort,” partly because it would use the same canisters that hold and launch Tomahawks aboard the SSGNs. They hope to install the first VPM on a Virginia-class sub in 2019.
But whether the module will become a reality is unclear. The Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed terminating the effort, citing high cost, risk and a lack of a validated requirement.
The committee is "concerned with increasing the Virginia-class submarine size by a third to accommodate a 93.7-foot module in the submarine's center," the panel wrote in a report explaining its fiscal 2014 defense bill. "The committee believes that the module's requirements are not defined, and will result in instability to a proven submarine design, disrupt a stable production line, and add significant cost risk which is not affordable in these difficult fiscal times. Initial cost estimates for development alone were $800 million."
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