A few days ago, the US Navy received a new multipurpose nuclear submarine. In the near future, the USS Illinois (SSN-786) submarine must go through a number of necessary procedures, after which it will be officially entered into the fleet's combat strength, and full operation will begin. It is expected that the introduction of the new submarine will further increase the potential of the US Navy's submarine forces, which already include a large number of Illinois submarines. In addition, according to various estimates, the beginning of the service of the next multipurpose nuclear submarine may have some consequences for the international situation.
The new submarine USS Illinois (SSN-786) was built according to the Virginia Block III project and is the representative of the newest and most advanced family of American multipurpose submarines at the moment. She became the third submarine of the Block III version and the 13th Virginia-class ship. The task of "Illinois" in the future will be to patrol these areas in search of various underwater and surface targets and, upon receipt of the appropriate order, their destruction. It is also possible to attack enemy coastal targets. One of the main goals of such a submarine's combat work will be the search for strategic missile submarines of a potential enemy.
The decision to build the submarine USS Illinois (SSN-786) and several other submarines was made in the middle of the last decade. On December 22, 2008, the decision to build led to the emergence of an agreement between the military department and the shipbuilding industry. Huntington Ingalls Industries and General Dynamics Electric Boat Shipyard received the contract for the construction of the new series of boats. They were ordered four and three submarines, respectively. The Illinois submarine was to be built at the General Dynamics Electric Boat facility in Groton, Connecticut.
The multi-billion dollar contract for Block III submarines involved the construction of several submarines of the same value. According to recent reports, the United States military spent $ 2.7 billion on the construction of the USS Illinois (SSN-786).
The laying ceremony for the USS Illinois submarine (SSN-786) took place on June 2, 2014. The trustee of the new ship was the first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, a native of Illinois, after whom the sub was named. Thanks to the well-established production, the construction of the submarine took only 14 months. Already on August 8, 2015, the boat was taken out of the workshop and launched. After that, the crew and industry specialists began testing and other necessary work prior to transferring the submarine to the customer.
Tests and fine-tuning of the newest multipurpose nuclear submarine took about a year, after which the representatives of the military department signed an acceptance certificate. Another submarine of the Virginia Block III type was handed over to the customer on August 27. In the near future, the naval forces are planning to carry out some necessary work, after which the submarine will be officially included in the combat strength of the fleet. The boat's commissioning ceremony is scheduled for October 29th. On this day, the US Navy's submarine forces will officially be replenished with a new combat unit.
Submarine USS Illinois (SSN-786) during construction. Photo Ussillinois.org
The nuclear submarine USS Illinois (SSN-786) was built according to the newest existing version of the Virginia project and is a fourth generation submarine. The used project is based on the basic developments of previous projects, however, it has a number of characteristic differences associated with the need to increase certain parameters. First of all, Block III submarines differ from their predecessors in their sonar system and launchers for missile weapons. The rest of the project is an improved version of previous developments. Design work on the Virginia Block III project began in 2009, after the signing of a contract for the construction of a series of new submarines.
In accordance with the project, the Illinois submarine has a length of 114.9 m, a width of 10.3 m and a normal draft of 9.8 m. The total displacement reaches 7900 tons. The boat has a characteristic appearance with a streamlined cylindrical hull of large elongation, in the bow which has horizontal rudders. On the upper surface of the hull, a relatively small guardhouse is provided. On the tapering aft, there is a set of rudders and a propeller placed inside the annular channel.
In the central compartment of the rugged hull of the boat, there is an S9G pressurized water-cooled nuclear reactor, which generates electricity for all systems. The project provides for an electric motor with a capacity of 30 thousand hp as a power plant for moving. A single-shaft design with a single propeller is used.
As part of the Block III project, the nose compartment of the light hull has undergone significant changes, which contains weapons and a sonar station. The main tasks in the alteration of the compartment were to improve the characteristics of the boat, as well as reduce the cost of its production and operation. By abandoning some of the previously used solutions, as well as by using unified units borrowed from existing projects, it was possible to solve both tasks.
Submarine in dry dock, July 29, 2016 Photo Ussillinois.org
It was decided to change the design of the main antenna of the sonar complex. Instead of the previously used system, which consisted of a large number of individual elements fixed on a common base in the form of a compartment with air, it was decided to use a spherical device completely surrounded by water. This version of the complex was designated LAB (Large Aperture Bow). The absence of the need to create a sealed base, filled with air, made it possible to significantly reduce the cost of manufacturing the bow of the boat. The redesign allowed an additional $ 11 million in hull cost.
The LAB system has two main components. The first is a passive station with increased performance, and the second is an active system operating in the middle frequency range. As part of the LAB complex, hydroacoustic sensors are used, which were previously used on submarines of the Seawolf type. The maximum possible resource of the complex is provided, equal to the resource of the entire submarine.
The first versions of the Virginia project proposed the use of 12 vertical launchers placed in front of a rugged hull in the bow of the boat. The Block III modernization project proposed a different option for transporting and launching missile weapons. In order to simplify the design and reduce the cost of production, the new multipurpose nuclear submarines should be equipped with launchers borrowed from the project for the modernization of strategic submarines of the Ohio type. With this solution, it was possible to improve the economic parameters of the project without any other kind of problems.
The launcher borrowed from Ohio is a cylindrical unit that fits into the Trident II ballistic missile silo. The installation accommodates six shafts of relatively small diameter, each of which can transport one cruise missile. Also in the body of the installation there is a variety of special equipment required for the use of missile weapons.
Scheme of innovations of the Block III project. Figure Defenseindustrydaily.com
In the case of the Virginia Block III project, the old separate launchers are being removed, in place of which some semblance of the mines of the Ohio strategic boats is being installed. On the hull are two hinged launcher covers, under which are two vertical launchers. Thus, the modernized submarines, like the boats of the previous versions, are capable of carrying and launching up to 12 cruise missiles.
Despite the replacement of launchers, the updated "Virginias" retain the same range of weapons. The main strike weapons of these ships remain the BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles, capable of striking targets, depending on the modification, at distances of up to 2500 km.
The rest of the "Illinois" is almost no different from the boats of its previous series project. With the exception of the complex of weapons and sonar equipment, all the changes are insignificant and are aimed at correcting previously identified deficiencies, simplifying the operation of equipment, etc. This made it possible to improve the required parameters, as well as to do without an unacceptable rise in the cost of construction and significantly save on the operation of unified equipment.
In particular, the additional armament of submarines in the form of torpedoes remained without significant changes. The USS Illinois (SSN-786) has four 533 mm torpedo tubes. The torpedo compartment can carry up to 27 torpedoes of several types. Such weapons are primarily intended to protect against enemy submarines.
USS North Dakota (SSN-784) is the lead submarine of the Block III series. Photo by US Navy
The previously used approach to collecting information about the environment has been retained. In particular, Block III still does not use the traditional periscope, instead of which the boat receives a mast with optoelectronic equipment associated with screens at the central post. It also provides for the use of other surveillance devices based on modern technologies and element base.
A curious feature of the Virginia class submarines was the ability to transport combat swimmers. The current project retains a special airlock, which allows the submarine to transport and land up to nine soldiers with weapons and special equipment in a given area. Also, the submarine can carry relatively large devices needed by divers.
The boat's own crew consists of 134 people, including 14 officers. If necessary, depending on the type of combat mission, the composition of the crew can change in one way or another. During autonomous sailing, the maximum possible comfort of work and life is ensured.
Virginia-class submarines, regardless of the series and the specific composition of the equipment, are capable of diving to a maximum depth of 488 m and a speed of at least 26 knots. According to some reports, the maximum underwater speed of such submarines exceeds 30-32 knots. The cruising range is limited only by the supply of food and ammunition. Reactors of the latest models, used on boats of new series, make it possible not to change nuclear fuel during the entire service life.
The second submarine of the USS John Warner series (SSN-785) during the delivery ceremony to the customer, August 1, 2015. The open lid of one of the launchers is visible. Photo by US Navy
To date, the US Navy has received and commissioned 12 Virginia-class multipurpose nuclear submarines. In accordance with the first order from 1998, four submarines of the first series were built. Their service began in 2004-2008. In 2003, the Pentagon ordered the construction of the second series of ships (Block II), as a result of which six more submarines were received in 2008-13. Block III submarines have been under construction since 2012. In the year before last and last year, the USS North Dakota (SSN-784) and USS John Warner (SSN-785) submarines entered service, respectively. Another submarine, USS Illinois (SSN-786), will be added to the US submarine forces in October.
After receiving the 13th submarine of the series, the US Navy intends to purchase a dozen more similar submarines. Over the next few years, Huntington Ingalls Industries and General Dynamics Electric Boat Shipyard will have to complete and deliver five further Virginia Block III boats to the customer. Ten more submarines will be built later. They will have to refer to the new version of the project with the designation Block IV. The contract for their construction was signed in April 2014. The timing of the delivery of equipment under these contracts should be clarified later.
Multipurpose nuclear submarines of the Virginia class of all series are considered as a replacement for the submarines of a similar purpose that remain in service, created and built over the past few decades. In addition to the Virginias, the tasks of searching for underwater and surface targets are solved by boats of the Los Angeles and Seawolf types. At the moment, 39 submarines of the first type and 3 of the second remain in service. It is noteworthy that initially it was planned to build a series of three dozen "Seawulfs", but due to the high cost, the project was significantly reduced. Over time, all existing submarines will have to give way to newer Virginia-class ships of the three existing and one planned series.
Like other multipurpose nuclear submarines of various types, operated by several countries of the world, the newest USS Illinois (SSN-786) will have to solve a fairly wide range of combat missions related to the search and destruction of various targets. It provides for the possibility of covert tracking of surface, underwater and coastal targets with their subsequent destruction using the most effective weapon in the current situation. The main armament of the Illinois and its sisterships are BGM-109 cruise missiles. If necessary, torpedoes of several types can be used.
USS Illinois (SSN-786) on trial, July 29, 2016 Photo Ussillinois.org
In the context of tracking submarine targets, Virginia-class submarines are primarily "hunters" for strategic missile submarines. In this role, American submarines pose a certain danger to Russian submarines on duty in the interests of strategic nuclear forces. The quantitative and qualitative characteristics of the US submarine forces, namely their component based on multipurpose nuclear submarines, can be a serious cause for concern. With more than fifty such submarines in the fleet's combat strength, the United States can deploy a relatively powerful group that monitors various regions of the oceans. As a consequence, there is a certain likelihood of uncovering areas and patrol routes.
To combat such a threat, appropriate measures are required. Protection of naval formations and missile submarines can be carried out by a variety of means. This task can be assigned to both anti-submarine ships and aviation. In addition, existing and promising multipurpose nuclear submarines, primarily new projects, should become a very effective means of tracking down submarines that threaten our ships.
Against the background of the total number of multipurpose nuclear submarines in the United States submarine forces, the transfer of the new USS Illinois (SSN-786) submarine does not look too threatening. Nevertheless, even one boat, equipped with the latest equipment and weapons, can significantly increase the potential of all submarine forces as a whole. In addition, it must be remembered that the Pentagon plans to build another fifteen hundred Virginia-class boats, most of which will relate to the new version of the project with the symbol Block IV.
The latest achievements and plans of the American military shipbuilding are of certain interest from a technical point of view, and for the United States they are also a real reason to be proud. For other countries, in turn, they can be cause for concern and material for analysis and forecasting. The current and planned development of the United States' submarine forces may hinder the modernization of the fleets of other countries, or even pose a serious threat to them. Therefore, news that is good for foreign military news should receive the required assessment, and also be taken into account by other countries, including ours, when planning their actions in the foreseeable future.