USS Colorado (SSN 788)

USS Colorado is the 15th of the Virginia class submarines. On June 25, 2012 Gov. John Hickenlooper and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus hosted a ship naming ceremony at the state Capitol in honor of USS Colorado. The Virginia-class submarine, designated SSN 788, started construction in March of 2012 and is expected to be delivered to the fleet in late 2016. She is being constructed at Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, CT known as the “Submarine Capitol of the World”. She is the fourth ship named Colorado.

The Virginia Class Submarine

Stealth, Endurance, and Agility Under the Sea

Designed by Electric Boat, the Virginia-class is being built jointly under a teaming arrangement between Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics located in Groton, CT  and Northrop Grumman Newport News in Virginia. In 1998, the U.S. Navy awarded a $4.2 billion contract for the construction of the first four ships of the class. USS Virginia is the first of the class. Displacing approximately 7,800 tons with a length of 370 feet, Virginia is longer but lighter than the previous Seawolf-class of submarines.

The 134-member crew of this Block III Virginia class submarine can launch up to 12 Tomahawk land-attack missiles from two new Virginia Payload Tubes (VPT) adapted from the Ohio class SSGNs and Mark 48 advanced capability torpedoes from four 21-inch torpedo tubes.

The Virginia class is able to attack targets ashore with highly accurate Tomahawk cruise missiles and conduct covert long-term surveillance of land areas, littoral waters or other sea forces. Other missions Virginia will conduct include anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare, Special Forces delivery and support, and mine delivery and minefield mapping. With enhanced communications connectivity, Virginia also will provide important battle group and joint task force support, with full integration into carrier battle group operations.

The Virginia-class of attack submarines surpasses the performance of any current projected threat submarine, ensuring U.S. undersea dominance well into the next century. The Virginia class (or SSN-774 class) of attack submarines are the first U.S. subs to be designed for a broad spectrum of open-ocean and littoral missions around the world. They were designed as a cheaper alternative to the Cold War era Seawolf-class attack submarines, and are slated to replace aging Los Angeles class subs, seventeen of which have already been decommissioned.

Innovations

The Virginia Class incorporates several innovations. Instead of periscopes, the subs have a pair of extendable “photonics masts” outside the pressure hull. Each contains several high-resolution cameras with light-intensification and infrared sensors, an infrared laser rangefinder, and an integrated Electronic Support Measures (ESM) array. Signals from the masts’ sensors are transmitted through fiber optic data lines through signal processors to the control center. The subs also make use of pump-jet propulsors for quieter operations.

Block III of the Virginia Class are outfitted with Virginia Payload Tubes. These tubes which house Tomahawk missiles have a large diameter and modular nature which allows it to be adapted to larger diameter missiles in the future, breaking the previous 533mm diameter restrictions of the Tomahawk cruise missile. This will allow Virginia class submarines to more easily field emerging technologies, like hypersonic long-range missiles and it could even be used to launch and recover large autonomous unmanned underwater vehicles that can come and go for days, or even weeks at a time.

The class also has a reactor core which will last the life of the ship which avoids an expensive and extended shipyard maintenance period to refuel the reactor midlife.

In Brief

  • Length: 377 ft.
  • Beam: 34 ft.
  • Displacement: 7800 tons
  • Speed: > 25 knots
  • Max operating depth: > 800 ft.
  • Propulsion: S9G Reactor producing 40,000 SHP
  • 33 Year service life
  • Cost: ~ $2.6B
  • Crew: 120 enlisted, 14 officers

Armament:

  • 4 Torpedo Tubes
  • 2 Virginia Payload Tubes (VPT) each capable of holding 6 vertical launch Tomahawk missiles

New Technology

  • Photonics mast
  • Virginia Payload Tubes
  • Life of ship reactor core
  • Pump jet propulsor
  • Large Aperture Bow Array

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