The Navy’s next-generation attack submarine, dubbed SSN(X), is so secret, most details on it remain linked solely to what Navy brass will occasionally discuss in people — and even then, not much has been leaked.

What do we know?

According to a defense budget request, “Unlike the Virginia Class Submarine, which was designed for multi-mission dominance in the littoral, SSN(X) will be designed for greater transit speed under increased stealth conditions in all ocean environments, and carry a larger inventory of weapons and diverse payloads.

“While SSN(X) will be designed to retain multi-mission capability and sustained combat presence in denied waters, renewed priority of the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) mission against sophisticated threats in greater numbers will influence the design trade space.”

Speaking during a panel discussion in advance of the annual Sea-Air-Space exposition, Rear Adm. Bill Houston, director of the service’s undersea warfare requirements office gave the media a rare glimpse into the next-gen attack submarine, Justin Katz at Breaking Defense reported.

“We are looking at the ultimate apex predator for the maritime domain,” said Houston.“We’re taking what we already know how to do and combining it together.”

The admiral described a submarine that boasts the payload and speed of the Seawolf-class submarines, the acoustics and senors of Virginia-class and the operational availability and service life of the Columbia-class submarines.

“We’re confident that we’re going to be able to do that because we’ve already built that on those previous platforms, we know how to do that. We just have to mesh it together with one platform,” he continued.

Under the fiscal year 2020 long-range shipbuilding plan, the Navy would begin purchasing 42 new submarines starting in FY34.

This conceptual drawing shows the new Virginia-class attack submarine now under construction at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Conn., and Northrop Grumman Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va. The first ship of this class, USS Virginia (SSN 774) is scheduled to be delivered to the U.S. Navy in 2004. DOD graphic by Ron Stern.

A report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) stated the Navy believes the boat will cost approximately US$5.8 billion, while CBO projected the price tag will be closer to US$6.2 billion.

The unprecedented peacetime expansion and modernization of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, as well as the introduction of new Russian attack and missile submarines, has prompted the US Navy to begin development of SSN(X).

Like the original Virginia-class, the SSN(X) will remain primarily an anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare platform — and new, extremely long-range munitions could give the SSN(X) a huge boost, according to 19FortyFive.com.

Long-range torpedoes — with a range of 200+ miles — is one area that the Navy is reportedly exploring.

At those extremely long ranges, targeting data would likely need to be supplied by an aerial platform, potentially a submarine-launched UAV, or perhaps by a maritime patrol plane like the Navy’s P-8 Poseidon.

In this scenario, a submarine-launched long-range torpedo could complete its terminal phase-controlled or directed not by the submarine it launched from, but from the air — a first in naval warfare.

Sonar system and electromagnetic signature reduction technology has seen great advances over the past decades.

For example, Virginia class submarines do not have an opening in its pressure hull through which a conventional periscope raises and lowers.

Instead, the nation’s newest submarine class have photonics masts with high-resolution daylight cameras, light-intensification and infrared sensors, an infrared laser rangefinder, and special electronics to intercept enemy communications, National Interest reported.

Unlike the Virginia class submarine, which was designed for multi-mission dominance in the littoral, SSN(X) will be designed for greater transit speed under increased stealth conditions in all ocean environments, and carry a larger inventory of weapons and diverse payloads. Credit: DOD.

Also, instead of traditional bladed propellers, the Virginia class has pump-jet propulsors to reduce the risks of cavitation and enable quieter operation than traditional propellers allow. The boat also has fiber-optic fly-by-wire ship control, AN/BYG-1 combat system, and nine-man lockout chamber for covert insertion of Special Operations forces.

Navy brass often discuss the connection between the Columbia and Virginia programs — a disruption in the industrial base for one can easily cause ripple effects for the other, Breaking Defense reported.

The service and industry are nearing design completion on Columbia and hope to utilize the same team to begin work on the newest boat, Houston said.

Further, the Navy plans on flowing work for SSN(X) into industry at the same time that it winds down on Columbia’s production.

“We’re going to time it such that when Columbia is ramping down in production, we’ll be ramping up in SSN(X) because we’ll have the design and the RDT&E done,” he said.

“It takes a significant amount of time and effort for that RDT&E to develop this apex predator, but that’s what we’re going to do over the next decade …”

Sources: Breaking Defense, The War Zone, 19FortyFive.com, National Interest, Popular Mechanics