|Electric Boat's Centennial
by John K. Welch
Looking back over one century and forward to a second, the men and woman
of Electric Boat and I share a palpable sense of pride and excitement from the
contributions our company has made and the challenges we will meet.
One hundred years ago--on
7 February 1899--Electric Boat was incorporated to complete a vessel that would
revolutionize naval warfare. Named Holland for its inventor--the visionary Irish
immigrant John Phillip Holland--this vessel would earn its place in history as the world's
first practical submarine. Since then, its successors have been employed to radically
reshape maritime strategy in World War I and beyond, help determine the outcome of World
War II, and play a pivotal role in the West's Cold War victory.
Throughout these years,
Electric Boat has maintained a reputation for leadership in a demanding industry that is
defined by innovation, high technology, and the rigorous application of unrelenting
During World War I, the
company proved itself by delivering more than 80 submarines, overhauling another 30, and
building 550 submarine chasers for Great Britain.
Over the course of World
War II, Electric Boat launched 74 submarines from its Groton, Conn., plant and oversaw the
construction of another 28 at a Wisconsin shipyard. These submarines accounted for 39
percent of all Japanese ships sunk (1,178 merchant vessels and 214 warships).
In the early 1950s, the
company responded to an extraordinary challenge from the Navy--to design and build the
first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus. Christened by First Lady Mamie
Eisenhower in 1954, the Nautilus went to sea a year later, signaling the
now-historic message: "Under way on nuclear power."
Since that time, Electric
Boat has secured its reputation as the world leader in submarine nuclear propulsion,
design, and construction.
In fact, the company has
designed 15 of the 18 U.S. classes of nuclear submarines, including all
ballistic-missile-firing submarines. Beginning with the USS George Washington in
1960--launched by Electric Boat the previous year--these ballistic-missile submarines have
been on continuous patrol, providing a virtually invulnerable strategic deterrent
capability and directly influencing the outcome of the Cold War. These deterrent patrols
are now conducted by the 18 Electric Boat-built Trident submarines, which represent the
centerpiece of a program described as a model of modern military procurement
The conclusion of the
Cold War has brought dramatic change to the world, with profound implications for the Navy
and its role in our nation's defense. What has remained constant, however, is the
submarine force's requirement for the most capable ships industry can produce.
This requirement has been
met with the three-ship Seawolf class, the most powerful submarines in the world. On 13
November 1998 Electric Boat delivered the USS Connecticut, the second ship of the
class; the third ship, the Jimmy Carter, is scheduled for delivery in 2001.
These submarines are
essential to the Navy's ability to move into the 21st century prepared to counter the full
spectrum of existing and emerging threats. The Seawolf-class submarines are essential for
another reason as well--they are providing the foundation for a new, more effective
submarine-acquisition process that will balance capability with affordability.
This new process enables
Navy and industry to design and build the Seawolf's successor--the Virginia
class--for a price that will be affordable at low rates of production. The linchpin of
this effort is the teaming agreement between Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding.
This agreement is among the most dramatic responses to naval shipbuilding's most serious
challenge--a construction rate that barely supports the industrial base and projected
With their qualities of
stealth, endurance, mobility, and flexibility, submarines will prove uniquely appropriate
to the nation's defense in the 21st century. The Defense Science Board's Task Force on the
Submarine of the Future recognized this in its report last year, calling SSNs
(nuclear-powered attack submarines) "a crown jewel in America's arsenal," and
concluding that they will remain "an enduring element of the naval force
As it enters its second
century as a submarine maker, Electric Boat is committed to maintaining its highly
developed technical strengths, while providing the business leadership our industry
requires to effectively manage the challenges of low-rate production. By applying an
intensity of purpose to a level of shipbuilding competence that has been 100 years in the
making, I am convinced that Electric Boat will succeed in its mission.
A Century of
by Robert A.
Few will dispute that
John P. Holland was a man of vision, a man whose inventions were the first step towards
the first true submarine. But he seemed to predict doom for the company he helped to found
in 1899 in a letter of resignation five years later: "The success of your company can
never be as great as what I ardently desire for it."
Did Holland fail to
envision a company whose products would help win two world wars? That ushered in the era
of nuclear propulsion? That helped revolutionize shipbuilding techniques and has long set
technological standards for the rest of the shipbuilding world? That even today, having
weathered three major build-up and slowdown cycles, including the end of the Cold War,
prepares to celebrate its centennial?
The company is Electric
Boat (EB). In its first 100 years it has moved from blueprints drafted without aid of
slide rule or calculator, to virtual reality computer simulations of sophisticated
undersea craft that take many gigabytes of data to operate. As it reviews its first
century, though, EB has not lost sight of its challenge for the next--preparing an
undersea craft to meet the Navy's requirements in capability and cost.
years for EB is something we should enjoy. We ought to savor it and look at the success of
the products we have built and the hard work that has gone into it," said EB
President John K. Welch. "But now, we are clearly focused on the future, not worrying
about the past."
As part of General
Dynamics (GD), EB has sister subsidiaries that build surface combatants and auxiliary
ships. EB's engineering and design team also is working on next-generation aircraft
carriers and amphibious ships.
"There are so many
exciting possibilities under the GD Marine umbrella," Welch said. "I would like
to think that 100 years from now we'll be the premier marine engineering company in the
world, and I think we're pretty darned close to that right now."
The history of submarines
goes back to Alexander the Great, who was said to have submerged in a glass diving bell.
David Bushnell developed the Turtle in the Revolutionary War, just down the
Connecticut coast from EB. By the late 19th century, a Swedish designer had built a
steam-powered submarine, though it could only travel 500 feet underwater.
"A machine as
complicated as a submarine is not the creation of a single genius," said Holland's
biographer, Richard K. Morris. But Holland, neither naval architect nor mechanical
engineer, was responsible for major innovations: (a) using two means of propulsion, a gas
engine surfaced and electric batteries submerged; (b) a fixed center of gravity below the
boat, for stability; (c) the hull lines of a porpoise, not fully exploited until the USS Albacore
(SS 569) decades later; (d) quick submergence; and (e) missile-firing capability.
"Though singly, his
accomplishments might be open to argument, taken collectively there can be no doubt,"
Morris said, "John P. Holland was not only a mechanical genius, but he does indeed
deserve the distinction of being named the father of the modern submarine."
Ironically, EB sprang out
of a seeming disaster on the first submarine Holland, at Crescent Shipyard in
Elizabethport, N.J. After the Holland sank dockside on 13 October 1897, Holland
beseeched the Electro-Dynamic Co. of Philadelphia to send someone to restore the
equipment. Electro-Dynamic sent Frank T. Cable, who improved the design, and recruited
investor Isaac L. Rice, president of the Electric Storage Battery Co. in Philadelphia, a
master in patent law and marketing.
On 7 February 1899,
Electric Boat Co. was formed, absorbing Holland's submarine company and the Electric
Launch Co. of Bayonne, N.J. Rice served as the first president. Of 22 shipyards that would
build submarines for the U.S. Navy, EB would be the longest-lived.
"The key to their
success was their ability to bring so many different systems together," said Steve
Finnegan, curator of the Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, Conn., just up the
Thames River from EB. "They were the people who knew how to bring corporate
components together to make the best end product."
Assistant Secretary of
the Navy Theodore Roosevelt wrote to Navy Secretary John D. Long on 10 April 1898: "I
think the Holland submarine boat should be purchased. Evidently she has in her
great possibilities for harbor defense."
But Rice's public
relations skills produced the first sale. When the Navy rejected the Holland, Rice
took it to Washington, D.C., demonstrating the submarine to crowds lining the Potomac in
early 1900, gaining support for the program. The Navy paid $150,000 for the Holland
on 4 April 1900.
The Holland had a
1,500-mile range (40 miles submerged), could dive to 100 feet, and had a top speed of
seven knots. Though rudimentary, the Holland proved its worth in war games four
months after the Navy took delivery. Surfacing near the flagship of the
"hostile" fleet, it signaled: "You're blown to atoms."
In its early days, EB
built boats for a number of countries. Both Japan and Russia used its submarines in their
war from 190405. England, France, Turkey, Venezuela, Sweden, Mexico, Norway, Denmark,
and other countries were interested. EB established the New London Ship & Engine Co.
in Groton in 1911 to manufacture diesel engines, but submarine production did not begin
there until 1925, when it began construction on four submarines for Peru. Today, Groton is
the center of its operations.
Displacement and steaming
power increased steadily for the first dozen years, with pre-WWI boats reaching 900 tons
and 2,000 shaft horsepower, while submerged speed nearly doubled, to almost 11 knots.
In 14 years, though, the
Navy ordered just 25 submarines from EB, and the company was near bankruptcy by 1913. New
York banker Henry R. Carse resigned from the board--convinced EB would go under.
The sinking of the
passenger ship RMS Lusitania by a German U-boat in May 1915 brought intense
interest in submarines, though, and EB was soon awash in orders. When Rice resigned in
August 1915, Carse returned as his replacement. Great Britain ordered 20 submarines,
Russia 12, Italy eight. The U.S. Navy bought 88 EB-built submarines during the war, and
overhauled another 30 in EB yards. EB also produced surface craft: submarine chasers for
Britain, Italy, and France, and transport ships for the U.S. Navy.
After the war, EB nearly
foundered again, going 13 years without a Navy order. It built tugboats, ferries, fishing
trawlers, and yachts. It built printing presses, machines to skin fish and stamp out bobby
pins, and even repaired hair curlers for beauty parlors.
It was an innovation, not
a war, which brought EB its next round of contracts. In 1931, it laid the keel of the Cuttlefish,
the first welded submarine to provide a secure pressure hull. The Cuttlefish would
make three war patrols in the Pacific more than a decade later. By 1936, the Navy was
ordering three welded boats a year. By 1940 it was building six a year.
President Franklin D.
Roosevelt visited EB's Groton plant in August 1940 and predicted production would increase
to 12 a year. His estimate was low. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, EB launched 16
submarines in 1942, 25 in 1943, and 23 in 1944, before slowing to 11 in 1945. Its wartime
production of 74 submarine hulls exceeded that of any other yard in the country.
The company met other
maritime needs as well, constructing hundreds of torpedo patrol boats at its ELCO plant in
Bayonne, N.J. On a shelf in EB President Welch's office today sits a model of PT 109. Lt.
John F. Kennedy, the future president, saved a crewman when the boat was cut in half by a
Japanese destroyer during WWII; coincidentally, that destroyer would later be sunk by a
mine laid by an EB-built submarine.
The exploits of EB's WWII
boats and the men who fought in them are legend in the undersea force. The Flasher
sank more than 100,000 tons of shipping--a wartime record. EB submarines and the men who
fought in them earned 777 major awards, including 10 Presidential Unit Citations, two
Medals of Honor, and 97 Navy Crosses.
But the end of
hostilities meant another slowdown. The Navy canceled 36 submarine contracts. Income
plummeted almost 70 percent in the first post-war year, to $14.4 million. EB's foundries
did commercial work, its assembly lines made machines to set bowling pins, and it returned
to making printing presses. It built steel highway bridges and industrial tool and die
machines, and did repairs and upgrades to World War II fleet boats.
It was during this era
that EB became one of the country's first conglomerates. In 1947 it purchased Canadair,
followed by Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Co. in 1951, giving it a foothold in aviation. In
1952 it organized General Dynamics, and acquired the electronics company Stromberg Carlson
in 1955. Eventually, GD would encompass missiles, aircraft, tanks, and submarines.
In the meantime, a
telephone call from Kittery, Maine, in January 1950, began a period of more rapid
technological change than EB had ever witnessed. Capt. Hyman G. Rickover said that
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard had rejected his request to build a submarine to house a
Westinghouse nuclear reactor! Could EB do it?
EB General Manager O.
Pomeroy Robinson Jr. assured Rickover he could, although he had no idea where to start.
The contract for the nuclear-powered submarine was signed 21 August 1951, and a year later
President Harry S. Truman presided over the keel-laying. On 21 January 1954, First Lady
Mamie Eisenhower christened the Nautilus. At 4,100 tons and 320 feet, it dwarfed
existing fleet boats, and it could submerge indefinitely.
The new submarine was so
technologically sophisticated that the design force at EB had grown to more than 430, more
than twice its wartime peak. (Today, as the company prepares to build the Virginia class
of submarine, there are almost 4,500 designers and engineers at EB.)
Of the first 19
nuclear-powered submarines EB would build, nine would be prototypes, such as the Seawolf
with its sodium-cooled reactor, the Narwhal with its passive reactor cooling,
and the electric-drive Glenard P. Lipscomb.
"It was a totally
new era in submarining," said retired Capt. Edward L. "Ned" Beach, the
commissioning skipper of the Triton (SSN 586), which made a shakedown cruise of
43,000 nautical miles around the world, surfacing just once, for seconds, to offload a
Sailor who had kidney stones.
"Compare that with
what a diesel submarine could do--and I grew up with diesels, I fought on them in the
war," Beach said. "The diesel submarine could cruise at two knots for two days.
You could possibly travel 100 miles without surfacing ... we were in a whole new
The philosophy of that
era was to push technology to its limits, recalls Wayne Magro, who joined EB in August
1959, advancing to manager of the Seawolf (SSN 21) program.
"Yeah, we were doing
things we had never done before, but if you look at a submarine, it is all the same
systems," Magro said. "Maybe on this boat it goes left, and this boat it goes
right, but it is a hydraulic system on both boats. It has radar, a periscope, torpedo
tubes, and trim and drain systems. It may be a different design, but the same basic ideas
were there, and what we had were guys who were very knowledgeable about those
Even as the Nautilus was
taking to sea, EB designers turned their attention to a new project, nuclear-powered
ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), built to fire Polaris ballistic missiles from
beneath the waves and strike targets thousands of miles away, giving the nation survivable
strategic assets. On 8 May 1962, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy christened the Lafayette,
at 425 feet and 7,000 tons the largest undersea craft to that point. From 1960 to
1970, EB built 17 missile boats, 13 attack submarines, and eight research submarines,
including the NR-1, still the Navy's premier undersea research platform.
EB brought its
accumulated knowledge to the Trident program, widely acknowledged as one of the most
efficient and effective military procurement programs ever, in part because of a building
technique pioneered by EB.
"When I first came
here, we used to build hulls in the north yard," Magro recalled. "We would weld
the frames, and stack them up, and wrap a shell plate around it, and weld the four joints
... and eventually the thing would become a pipe. Then, everything had to be built inside
the hull. It was like building a watch through the stem hole."
By 1974, looking forward
to a string of contracts on the Trident stretching out for years into the future, EB had a
level of stability unprecedented in the industry.
"Trident was ... a
big enough program so we could invest in the facilities we needed to revolutionize the way
we built submarines," said Henry J. Nardone, who managed the Trident program at EB
during the 1970s. "We actually built our facilities from the ground up."
EB built a $150 million
land-level facility in Groton, including a manufacturing bay, a pontoon graving dock for
launchings, and a network of rail lines that allowed the submarine hull sections to be
moved into place for final assembly. It also invested $120 million at a closed naval air
station in Quonset Point, R.I., to build an automated frame and cylinder operation, where
huge cylindrical sections of submarine hulls are constructed, packed with equipment, then
placed on barges for towing to Groton for assembly.
Nardone said the
efficiency quickly became clear. It took 24 million staff hours to build the Ohio,
the first of the Tridents. That production time dropped to 12 million hours by the ninth
"The program was
well-managed, came in on time, under budget, and did all the things it was supposed to
do," Nardone said. "It was probably the most significant weapons development
program of the Cold War years. And, in all truth, it probably deserves the credit for the
outcome of the Cold War."
There were other changes
as well, chief among them a philosophy that builders should be involved with the design.
"There were some
experienced designers who might have spent some time in the shipyard, but they were few
and far between," Magro said. "For the most part, they designed it from their
point of view, and the builders had to go do the best they could to build it. The Ohio
[program] kind of broke that paradigm. Builders started to get more involved in the
design. We started to look at what would make it easier to build. ... There were certain
processes we learned we did not have to do; there were processes we learned we had to look
at much earlier in the program."
The 1970s would end
poorly. While working on 18 contracts for Los Angeles-class submarines EB filed a claim
with the Navy for $544 million, which EB attributed to Navy errors and changes in the
plans. By 1978 EB threatened to shut down production, and only at the last minute did the
Navy agree to a $359 million payment and a $300 million interest-free loan to settle the
Then, in 1979, production
ground to a standstill when problems were found with welds on the Los Angeles-class SSN
USS Bremerton, sparking a congressional investigation. Relations with the Navy were
near a historic low.
Two general managers,
Fritz Tovar from 1982 to 1988, and James Turner Jr. from 1988 to 1991, worked hard to
restore EB's reputation, concentrating on quality to the point that EB won the contract to
build the Seawolf, the first totally new design in decades.
But the end of the Cold
War meant the planned 29-ship fleet of Seawolfs was trimmed to three. EB was chosen to
design the Virginia-class SSN--the so-called new attack submarine--but there was a pitched
battle to make sure EB would stay in the business of building them.
Dynamics, there was an effort to return to the company's core strengths. It shed its
missile and aircraft businesses, closed shipyards in Charleston, S.C., and Quincy, Mass.,
and began to prepare for drastically reduced military spending.
"At the end of the
Cold War, [we] did research about large business cycles, and how companies have reacted
... and what was clear was, 'he who acted last was the one who did the worst,' so they
sold some businesses, but what they were looking to do was create the critical mass,"
said EB President Welch. "What was clear to General Dynamics was that sitting still
was not an option. ...
"The advantage we
had at EB was we had a large backlog of work, and those five-year contracts allowed us to
predict what was going to happen to manpower requirements. That gave us time to plan
through that. So we aggressively went after driving out as much of the cost as we could,
as early as we could. Then it was a question of making sure we did not jeopardize the
technical integrity of the product."
This year, the Virginia
will begin to take shape in Quonset Point, and EB will participate in a Pentagon study of
the submarine of the future.
"We are at our
absolute best solving technical issues," Welch said. "If it is a tough problem,
you put our people on it, and it is something to watch." Coupled with some repair
work at the nearby Naval Submarine Base New London, Welch is hopeful that he can maintain
the core shipbuilding skills that will be needed to meet the Navy's production needs well
into the future.
As EB celebrated its 50th
anniversary, the corporation's annual report made an observation that seems appropriate
even today: "Twice within a single generation, America has been forced into a world
war, because our enemies considered us unprepared. From bitter experience we in the United
States now know that we must maintain the development of key security weapons in
proportion to our devotion to a world peace. The responsibility of the Electric Boat
Company, as pioneer builders of United States submarines, is to help maintain America's
leadership in submarine invention and development through a moderate building program
keyed to the proved concept that, to keep peace, America must keep pace."
Virginia-Class New Attack Submarine
Undersea Superiority for the 21st Century
by Scott C. Truver
A question that had
stymied numerous observers inside and outside of the Navy--How long would the Navy's
next-generation nuclear-powered attack submarine continue to be called the "new"
SSN?--has finally been answered. On 10 September 1998, outgoing Navy Secretary John Dalton
announced that the first NSSN would be named Virginia, to be followed by Texas.
"The Virginia (SSN 774) is the first U.S. warship designed to meet the
compelling peacetime-presence, crisis-response, and warfighting needs of the 21st
century," Adm. Frank L. Bowman, director of naval nuclear propulsion, remarked in an
interview last December. "The Virginia class will ensure that the U.S. submarine
force will be fully capable of meeting the daunting mission needs of the future--including
national mission taskings, the requirements of the regional commanders in chief, and
direct support to the Navy's battle groups."
The sixth U.S. Navy
warship to carry the name Virginia is also the first U.S. warship designed and
engineered entirely by computer. The ship will usher in a new era of undersea warfare
capabilities, according to Rear Adm. Malcolm Fages, director, Submarine Warfare Division
(N87) in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. "Virginia will
incorporate a land-attack capability that is second to none," Fages said. "Virginia
will be even stealthier than Seawolf, including better non-acoustic stealth, and
will possess a more robust mine-reconnaissance capability." He pointed out that this
is a critical capability in an era of growing threats to naval operations. In the
post-World War II era, 14 of 18 U.S. warships that suffered operational casualties were
victims of naval mines. Fages added that "the Virginia class will be able to evolve
over the years because of an aggressive technology-insertion program that will ensure U.S.
undersea supremacy well into the 21st century."
Another important aspect
of the Virginia-class program is the significant degree of teaming among industry.
"The lead ship of the Virginia class represents the Navy's commitment to maintain its
undersea superiority in the 21st century," said John K. Welch, president of General
Dynamics Electric Boat Corp., one of the builders of the boat. "The program
represents industry's commitment to produce ships that provide the Navy with the
capability and flexibility it requires to perform its missions around the world. Just as
importantly," Welch said, "Virginia represents industry's commitment to
find new ways of doing business--ways that will make our ships affordable for the Navy and
the American taxpayer. The Electric Boat/Newport News Shipbuilding team was established to
do just that, and I can promise you that Bill Fricks [chairman and chief executive officer
of Newport News Shipbuilding] and I will continue to work together to deliver ships that
will make us all proud."
This view was echoed by
Tom Schievelbein, Newport News' executive vice president. "This teaming to co-produce
the Virginia-class submarines provides the Navy with a unique opportunity,"
Schievelbein stated. "For the first time, the nation's two nuclear submarine builders
are working together to combine our best talents and our best ideas to ensure that the
fleet is provided with an extremely flexible and capable asset at a more affordable
The three Seawolf-class
SSNs--superb warfighting machines designed to meet Cold War requirements against an
aggressive Soviet submarine force--simply proved to be too expensive to be acquired in
sufficient numbers to sustain minimum force levels in a post-Cold War era of military
downsizing and demands for "peace dividends." Beginning in 1992, the Navy began
to rethink its submarine-warfare capabilities to match the sea-change in operational focus
announced by the Navy-Marine Corps strategic concept paper Forward ... From the Sea.
Although fully capable of traditional open-ocean antisubmarine and antisurface warfare
missions, the Virginia class has been specifically designed and engineered to carry on
multimission operations in the littoral warfare environment, including:
intelligence-gathering, indications and warning surveillance, and reconnaissance;
- Shallow-water and
open-ocean antisubmarine warfare;
- Battlegroup support;
- Covert special operations
- Covert strike and direct
support of forces ashore;
- Covert mine warfare: mine
reconnaissance and avoidance, and offensive and defensive mining; and
- Antisurface warfare.
submarine right out of the box," said Capt. Paul Sullivan, Virginia-class program
manager. "We have run the operational effectiveness analyses and have demonstrated
that in all mission areas and operational environments the Virginia SSN is equal to or
better than the Seawolf. More importantly," Sullivan continued, "it will
be ready for any threat submarine our adversaries might be able to develop, including the
new-design Russian submarine, Severodvinsk. While I'd like to take credit for
this," he said, "we owe a debt of gratitude to Captains Joe Sabatini and Dave
Burgess--the former NSSN program managers--and their great team of Navy and industry
people who navigated some shoal waters during the early days of the program. Dave's
stewardship of the open-systems architecture," Sullivan noted, "and the courage
to let industry and academia help determine the course of our groundbreaking C3I system
have been critical to our success."
Fages observed that
"the Virginia-class SSNs will have superior covert, non-provocative capabilities for
continuous monitoring of regional 'pictures' in peacetime, crisis, and war." During
lengthy patrols in forward areas, the submarine's advanced electronic sensors will be
"tuned" for collecting critical intelligence; on-board sonars and special
off-board systems will be used to prepare the undersea battlespace for operations.
Minefields can be detected and locations radioed to commanders before forces are committed
to battle, while other threats and targets are monitored. "Although [the Virginia
SSN will not be] capable of diving as deep or as fast as the Seawolf, we found that
the margin of difference did not really matter in the expected operational
environments," Sullivan noted. "More importantly, the Virginia will be as
quiet acoustically as the Seawolf and have greater non-acoustic stealth."
SSN-774 baseline characteristics are shown in Table 1.
The Virginia class will
support the full range of covert special warfare missions: search-and-rescue,
intelligence-collection and reconnaissance, diversionary attacks, fire support and strike
direction, and other tasks. Navy SEALs (Sea-Air-Land) and joint special operations forces
can be hosted for extended periods in forward areas, and teams can be replaced
clandestinely on station.
Several features of the
SSN 774 class have been optimized for special warfare missions. The large swimmer
lock-out/lock-in chamber will provide an unprecedented capability that is further enhanced
by the ability to host the advanced swimmer delivery system (ASDS). A mini-submarine that
greatly expands the special forces undersea operational envelope, the ASDS has a 125
nautical-mile range at 8 knots and carries eight SEALs and their gear, in addition to the
two-man crew. The Virginia class's reconfigurable torpedo/weapons-handling room can
support larger special operations missions, as well as the use of unmanned undersea
vehicles and other specialized equipment.
Each of the
Virginia-class SSNs will carry 38 full-sized weapons, including advanced-capability
heavyweight torpedoes and naval mines. Twenty-six weapons can be launched from the
submarine's four torpedo tubes, and other weapon systems, and unmanned undersea and aerial
vehicles (UUVs and UAVs), also are being evaluated. Unmanned aerial vehicles--such as the
Predator UAV that was successfully tested with an SSN in 1996--can link forces ashore
directly to the Virginia SSNs for rapid targeting, strike, and battle-damage assessment.
The Virginia also
will carry strike weapons in its 12 vertical launching system cells: Tomahawk land-attack
missiles armed with a variety of warheads, and perhaps a submerged-launch variant of the
160-mile range, precision-guided Army tactical missile system (ATACMS) for naval support
of ground maneuver forces. Bowman noted that the Virginia-class SSNs, with their ability
to remain undetected in forward areas for months on end, will be ready for immediate
action to strike far inland and to support friendly forces ashore.
technologies and systems are included in the baseline Virginia-class boat, and the modular
baseline design is so flexible that future technology insertion will be easier and more
efficient than ever before. The lightweight wide-aperture array will enhance antisubmarine
and antisurface warfare capabilities while providing timely undersea situational awareness
far beyond what is possible with standard hull-mounted and towed sonar arrays. Other
state-of-the-art sensors include advanced electronic support measures equipment and
non-hull-penetrating photonics electronic imaging masts instead of standard periscopes. An
electromagnetic silencing system, together with advanced mine detection and avoidance
systems, will allow safe operation in the vicinity of naval mines.
systems will tie together critical information from numerous sources, and real-time links
to off-board underwater, surface, airborne, and space-based assets will give the Virginia
SSNs outstanding communications capabilities. The Virginia-class vessels will be fully
capable of operating within the Navy's emerging concept of network-centric warfare. They
will host an advanced electronic support measures (formerly called ASTECS--advanced
submarine tactical ESM combat system) capability that will provide detection,
identification, and direction-finding for radar and other radio frequency signals from a
variety of sources. The ESM (electronic surveillance measures) will be linked to the
integrated ESM mast, which will support higher throughput and frequency and pulse agility
capability than legacy/in-service systems for operation in dense ESM signals environments.
The submarine integrated antenna system (SIAS) will be prototyped for the Virginia class,
enabling the ships to communicate in a wide range of Navy and joint networks and the high
data rate system, which will provide a significant upgrade in "demand-assigned
multiple access capability." The Virginia also will feature a new universal
modular mast (UMM), an integrated system for housing, erecting, and supporting
mast-mounted antennas and sensors, in a non hull-penetrating design. In addition to the
ESM and SIAS, the UMM will house the photonics imaging system, which will provide advanced
visual, infrared, TV, and image-enhancement technologies and other capabilities, for
significantly increased detection, identification, and classification capabilities.
Other innovations for the
SSN 774 focus on its propulsion plant, which is more compact and has a simpler design but
a much-increased energy
density than previous U.S. Navy submarine plants (see Table 2). It is the first naval
nuclear propulsion plant truly designed for a life-of-ship core, which will eliminate the
need for a mid-life refueling, save hundreds of millions of dollars in future life-cycle
costs for each submarine acquired, and significantly reduce potential environmental
Another measure of the
Navy's commitment to ensuring that the most advanced technologies and systems can be
cost-effectively included in the Virginia class is the design of the submarine's sail,
masts, and antennas. Previous submarine designs configured the sail to house specific
antennas and masts in precisely aligned support structures with associated cabling and
hydraulics, which sometimes diminished operational flexibility and increased maintenance.
With the SSN 774, the Navy has completely reworked the design concept of the sail, which
is capable of easily accommodating self-contained, nonpenetrating antenna or mast modules
that are connected to standard electrical and electronic fittings. This facilitates
maintenance, keeps life-cycle costs low, and allows the Virginia SSNs to be readily
configured with mission-specific antenna, mast arrangements, and a wide array of other
Sullivan said that future
technology insertion in the Virginia design "will be highly responsive to changing
missions, threats, and resources, and thereby guard against technological surprise."
The modular isolated deck structure (MIDS), an innovative method of deck construction and
sound and shock isolation and mounting pioneered in the Virginia, will facilitate
the use of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) electronics and other components, while
simplifying off-hull construction and testing. And, as the most cost-effective way to keep
ahead of the "threat-requirements" curve, the ship's modular design facilitates
the insertion of new technologies and systems, either for new-construction or for backfit
into existing ships.
The Virginia class's
open-architecture command, control, communications, and intelligence (C3I) system, for
example, promises the expanded use of widely available COTS technologies, components, and
systems. Similarly, the ship's platform-wide fiber optic cable system is designed for easy
"plug-in/plug-out" equipment integration and is sized for future growth.
Finally, if future
mission needs so dictate, especially in light of the Defense Science Board's (DSB) July
1998 "Submarine of the Future" report, the Virginia-class's modular design will
easily accommodate the construction of mission-specific variants. Mission-specific,
self-contained hull modules could be designed, engineered, and "inserted" into
future SSNs during construction to expand the submarine force's warfighting capabilities.
For example, future SSN 774 variants could be built with submerged-launch ballistic
missile (SLBM) modules to replace the Ohio-class (SSBN-714) strategic ballistic missile
submarines as they begin to retire after 2025. Other mission-specific variants could be
built to accommodate special operations forces or strike weapons, mines, or combinations
of systems and troops.
Thus, the Virginia
class's modular design features respond to the need for technological and tactical
flexibility. "In this sense," said Sullivan, "the Virginia-class SSN, as we
are pursuing it today, will enable us to propose and test both design and systems
technology improvements to ensure that future nuclear attack submarines will incorporate
the latest, best, and most affordable technology in the most cost-efficient manner
Dynamics and Teaming
previous "plan of record" for the Virginia was initially controversial in
Congress and initiated calls for the DSB and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
(DARPA) to address submarine technology and design issues and trends. The 1993 Bottom-Up
Review (BUR) directed the Navy to consolidate all future submarine design, engineering,
and construction at General Dynamics Electric Boat Corp. (EB), but Congress in 1996
mandated a competition between EB and Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) and a competitive
prototype "swim-off" that would derive a baseline design for Virginia-class
Congressional demands for
prototyping were met with a four-ship directed-acquisition plan proposed by the Navy that
would involve the two shipyards building two SSNs each, after which competition for
production of a small number of Virginia SSNs per year would go forward. Both yards then
proposed an innovative teaming agreement that would share production and dramatically
reduce--perhaps by as much as $700 million--the Navy's revised plan for the first four
SSNs. The rationale behind this proposal was that there was insufficient annual production
to sustain two yards in a purely competitive environment and that it made good business
sense and supported broad national security goals to keep two nuclear-submarine yards in
funding for the lead ship was approved in fiscal year 1996; full funding, in FY 1998; and
the design efforts are now well along. A contract with Electric Boat, the Virginia-class
prime contractor, is now in place for all four initial Virginia SSNs. Work on the Texas
(SSN 775) is to get under way in FY 1999, and SSNs 776 and 777 will be started in FYs 2001
and 2002, respectively.
The first four boats are
being built under innovative teaming arrangements between EB and NNS. Construction of the
first four ships will be shared by ship section. EB will build all hull sections for use
at EB and NNS, as well as the engine room modules and command-and-control system operating
spaces; NNS will build the bow, stern, sail, and selected forward sections for each
submarine. EB will assemble the first and third ships, scheduled for delivery in FYs 2004
and 2006, respectively; NNS, the second and fourth, to be delivered in FYs 2005 and 2007.
Each "follow-on" Virginia SSN is to include as much technology insertion as
Boat/Newport News teaming arrangement represents the most dramatic response yet to Navy
shipbuilding's biggest challenge--a construction rate that barely supports the industrial
base and projected force-level requirements," EB's John Welch said. "Teaming
enables us to improve learning curves, obtain better material pricing through consolidated
buys, and capitalize on individual shipyard strengths. It will provide the nation with an
immensely capable submarine at a price we can afford."
A total of 30 Virginia
SSNs have been identified in Navy program planning. The acquisition strategy for SSN 779
and follow-on ships has not yet been determined. There are plans--currently without
sufficient funding programmed--to increase the build rate to two and eventually three per
year, which has raised concerns in Congress. "The situation of having fallen behind
the steady-state [shipbuilding] rate, and its potential long-term consequences for force
structure, are perhaps most acute for attack submarines," said Rep. Sam Gejdenson
(D-Conn.). "Seven submarines in 14 years is an average rate of one-half a boat per
year. That's not a very high rate for the United States."
operational warfighting capabilities remain the paramount concern for the Virginia class,
reducing acquisition and life-cycle costs is also a major consideration. These submarines
must be affordable in sufficient numbers to satisfy future force-level requirements, Navy
planners say. Millions of dollars have already been saved through the innovative
application of concurrent engineering design/build teams, computer-aided
"paperless" design and construction tools, and simplifying components and
systems. The design itself is embodied in three-dimensional electronic drawings of
individual components, systems, and major deck assemblies, which replace the paper
drawings and reduce reliance upon wooden mockups. These electronic representations also
can be manipulated by "virtual reality walk-throughs" and "what-if?"
iterations that validate design and engineering decisions before any metal is bent. When
actual construction begins, the computer-based design elements will be linked directly to
numerically controlled machinery on the shop floors and to an integrated inventory control
system accessible by both yards.
measures include adapting the main propulsion unit and quieted torpedo-tube designs from
the Seawolf class, as well as adapting equipment from Los Angeles-class submarines that
are being decommissioned to meet reduced force levels mandated by the 1997 Quadrennial
Defense Review (QDR).
So far, research and
development investment in the Virginia SSNs through FY 1999 has totaled $2.5 billion (all
dollars in FY 1995 program dollars) and the total cost for research, development, and
acquisition of the first four Virginia SSNs will come to $9.5 billion. The shipbuilder
contract price for the first four SSNs is $4.2 billion. According to Sullivan, prior to
the teaming arrangement for the first four submarines, the Navy's plan showed that the
in-production/fifth-ship cost would be approximately $1.54 billion. Current estimates show
that fifth-ship cost increasing to $1.65 billion, the increase resulting from program
changes since 1996.
players--civilian and uniformed Navy people and people in each shipyard and throughout
industry--are truly committed to building the best and most affordable submarine
possible," Sullivan stated.
Trends and Dynamics
"We must express to
you our strong concerns that the Navy's low rate of ship construction is creating a future
force-level crisis," a 3 December 1998 letter to Navy Secretary Richard J. Danzig,
signed by 12 members of Congress, warned. "We urge you to adopt an acquisition
approach for the NSSN to capitalize on the costs and stability benefits of serial
production and a multiship block buy," the letter continued. "We are convinced
that this approach to submarine acquisition can cut costs substantially, reduce the 'bow
wave,' stabilize the industrial base, and result in savings that can be used to fund the
FY 2003 submarine."
The 1993 BUR called for
maintaining a submarine force of about 45-55 SSNs; four years later the 1997 QDR planning
factor of 50 nuclear attack submarines has been challenged as inadequate for current and
future requirements. Recognizing the changed dynamics of the post-Cold War era, the Joints
Chiefs of Staff earlier had called for as many as 72 SSNs--10 to 12 of which must have
Seawolf (SSN 21) stealth features--by 2012. Others have called for an even smaller U.S.
submarine force, with the savings going into truly advanced technologies and designs.
Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre last June called for the Joint Staff to study
submarine force-structure requirements beyond 2010 and, in its July 1998 "Submarine
of the Future" report, the DSB called for "more, not fewer" nuclear attack
submarines. All other things held equal, with the eventual commissioning of all three
Seawolf (SSN 21) submarines--the USS Connecticut (SSN 22) was commissioned on 11
December and the Jimmy Carter (SSN 23) is scheduled for delivery in 2001--the
expected low-rate production of the Virginia SSNs, and the continued accelerated
decommissioning of the Los Angeles-class ships, by 2025 the Navy's submarine force will
clearly be operationally superb, but a mere shadow of the Cold War force--perhaps no more
than 33 submarines, according to worst-case scenarios.
A force of 50 SSNs will
allow an annual average of 11 SSN-years of deployments for national missions, theater
tasks, and carrying out peacetime forward-presence operations, according to Navy
documentation, compared to 16 SSN-years in mid-1998, with a force of 73 SSNs. Frequent
contingency operations during the 1980s and 1990s have shown that, to continue to meet
unplanned operational commitments as well as routine deployments, either the number of
available submarines must increase, or the days-at-sea goals will almost certainly be
exceeded, creating even more challenges for the Navy operationally and in the retention of
critical officer and enlisted submarine-warfare specialists.
This was one of the
reasons for the DSB's conclusion that more SSNs are needed. Recognizing that SSNs are so
key to modern naval operations that they should be called a crown jewel in America's
arsenal, the DSB recommended accelerating the production of the SSN 774 class, pursuing a
vigorous technology development and insertion program for existing and future submarines,
and coming up with a more capable successor to the Virginia class in the 2020s. In the
DSB's assessment, this future SSN should be a large nuclear-powered ship with substantial
internal volume for unconventional payloads.
The DSB advised against
"weapon-specific interfaces," such as torpedo tubes and vertical launching
cells, and said that "bomb-bay" techniques or other large-aperture,
free-flooding openings, and external storage of rapid-response weapons and
countermeasures, should be investigated. The DSB concluded that a "wide-open"
look at the future submarine should be conducted jointly by the Navy and DARPA, with
substantial input from industry, to develop a range of alternative designs. The DSB also
recommended that the balance of research and development be shifted from propulsion and
quieting (including the introduction of electric drive) to "connectivity, sensors,
weapons, adjuvant vehicles, and interfaces with the water." DARPA and the Navy have
responded to this recommendation by initiating an 18-month, $10 million study for advanced
payloads and sensor concepts.
Recent studies have
indicated that a Navy shipbuilding program of some 10 ships, perhaps as many as 12 ships,
per year is needed to sustain a 300-ship fleet. A critical element in that future is to
acquire sufficient numbers of affordable yet highly capable submarines, especially if the
50-SSN force level mandated by the 1997 QDR is to be sustained.
The Virginia-class is the
"foundation for continued U.S. undersea superiority," Fages has repeatedly
stated. "A sustained, stable program of at least two Virginia SSNs beginning no later
than 2005 will ensure that minimum essential forces are sustained and will help ensure the
continued robust health of the U.S. nuclear shipyard and related industrial base. And it
will provide the springboard for even more capable submarines to meet future threats and
operational environments that can be only dimly perceived in early 1999," he said.
Connection: USS Holland and Electric Boat
by Gary McCue
John P. Holland was an
Irish schoolteacher who dreamed of perfecting the submarine boat. His interest in
submarines began in 1869 when he was 28 years old, but, like many inventors, he lacked the
money to realize his dream. Holland emigrated to the United States in 1873. Three years
later, his brother, Michael, introduced him to members of the Irish Fenian Brotherhood,
who convinced the Brotherhood to fund the construction of his first three submarines.
Army Lt. Edmund Zalinski
raised the funds to build Holland's fourth submarine in 1884. This submarine, badly
damaged when the launch ways collapsed, was scrapped to pay the stockholders.
The U.S. government held
a competition for the design of a submarine torpedo boat in 1888. Holland won the
competition, but funding was redirected to surface ships. The government held another
competition five years later. The Holland Torpedo Boat Company was formed to raise the
required $7,500 deposit and Holland won again.
Construction of the Plunger
began in March 1895; however, the government's requirement for surface speed could not
be met, and many design changes followed. By late 1896, Holland became convinced that his
fifth submarine would be a failure, and he obtained permission from the Holland Torpedo
Boat Co. to construct the Holland VI with private funding. When the boat was
launched on 17 May 1897, it represented a major advancement in submarine design. It was
the first submarine to use an internal combustion engine for surface propulsion and
electricity for submerged propulsion. This innovation made it possible to recharge the
battery and compressed air reservoirs without returning to port and provided much greater
range than that of an all-electric submarine. It also had a fixed center of gravity that
provided unparalleled control when submerged and hydrodynamically advanced hull shape.
During trials in November
1898, the Navy Board of Inspection and Survey noted that the Holland VI was
sluggish and difficult to control. Major modifications would be required, but there was no
Financier Isaac Rice also
had a dream. By 1898, he had secured a virtual monopoly in the storage-battery business
and begun to acquire companies that used batteries. After touring the Holland VI on
4 July 1898, and again on 3 September 1898, he agreed to finance the necessary
modifications. On 7 February 1899, Rice formed the Electric Boat Co. and consolidated
several of his holdings, including the Holland Torpedo Boat Co. and the Electric Launch
Co. Following successful trials in late 1899 and early 1900, the U.S. government purchased
the Holland VI on 11 April 1900. The Holland VI was commissioned USS
Holland on 12 October 1900.
In a few years,
Holland-type submarines would be found in many of the world's navies. Seven improved
Holland submarines (the Adder class) were built for the U.S. Navy between 1901 and 1903.
Messers Vickers, Sons, and Maxim built five modified Adder-class submarines for
Britain between 1900 and 1902, and the Fore River Yard in Massachusetts built four
Adder-class submarines for Japan in 1904. Germany built a Holland-type submarine in 1902,
and the Electric Boat Co. sold the prototype for the Adder class (Fulton) to Russia
The USS Holland
was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in 1910 and scrapped around 1930. In 1992,
Gary McCue began researching the Holland VI in order to build a three-dimensional
computer model using Electric Boat's computers and Dassault's CATIA (computer-aided
three-dimensional interactive applications) system. The computer model was built using
information obtained from the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the Submarine
Force Library, and John Holland's biographer, Richard Morris, the model has been used to
demonstrate Electric Boat's computer-aided design capabilities to college students,
employees' families, vendors, and customers. One hundred years after the Holland VI
launched Electric Boat's century of innovation, the USS Holland is again underway.