CLEARANCE: Top Secret
- Jul 4, 2010
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Questions about US Navy attack sub program linger as contract negotiations drag.
At the center of this is a rather large cutback in the number of VPM boats, which complicates the yards' plans no end.The U.S. Navy is months behind schedule getting its latest batch of Virginia-class attack subs under contract, and no resolution appears imminent — leading to mounting concerns that delays on the Virginia will affect the Navy’s top acquisition priority, the Columbia-class submarine.
The contract for the 10-ship Block V Virginia-class attack submarine was supposed to be signed in April, but Navy and industry sources say that there has been a lot of talk and little agreement between the service and the two shipbuilders, General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Newport News.
The delays center on the integration of the Virginia payload module and just how many the Navy intends to buy. Until this year, the public plan was for Virginia Block V to be a 10-ship class, where the first boat would integrate the acoustic upgrades but the follow-on boats would all integrate the VPM, which is designed to triple the Virginia’s Tomahawk payload capacity to 40 per hull. When the Pentagon’s 2020 budget request dropped in March, the plan changed, with the total buy expanded to 11 hulls with eight VPM boats.
But according to sources who spoke to Defense News, the builder was laying the groundwork for the original plan, which the Navy had already purchased long-lead material toward. The confusion over just how many VPMs the Navy intends to buy has been a major sticking point in the negotiations, with sources telling Defense News that the number of VPMs could still end up as either eight or seven, or potentially even fewer.
Defense News reported in March that class-wide, Virginia is looking at four-to-seven month delays for delivery, which drives up labor costs.