Got subs? The Navy sounds increasingly confident it can squeeze an extra submarine into its construction plans. The additional Virginia-class attack sub, to be funded in the 2021 budget, would enter service just as the attack submarine force shrinks to historic lows while Chinese and Russian fleets grow in both numbers and sophistication.
The Navy had planned to cut back production of Virginias, which carry conventional cruise missiles and torpedoes, to make room for the much larger Ohio Replacement Program (ORP) boats, which carry nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. Maintaining the nuclear deterrent for the worst case scenario takes top priority — but attack submarines are in high demand every day. The growing threat of nuclear-armed great powers increases the need for both kinds of boats. It’s a painful tradeoff the Navy would rather not make.
Now new Navy studies suggest the shipyards can keep building two Virginias a year, the current rate, even as they start building the first “boomer” in 2021. As Ohio Replacement production ramps up after 2021, however, keeping up two Virginias a year will become harder.