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The U.S. Navy Is About to Get a New Nuclear Attack Submarine

The United States Navy will commission a new Virginia-class attack submarine—the future USS Washington (SSN 787) on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.

Thomas Dee, who is performing the duties of the Under Secretary of the Navy, will deliver the ceremony’s principal address.

“The future USS Washington is among the most technologically advanced platforms in the world,” Dee said in a statement.

“This submarine not only represents the spirit, ingenuity and strength of the American people, but also recognizes the critical role that the State of Washington provides to our national security. I am grateful to the men and women of Newport News Shipbuilding and to all of their partners for delivering such an extraordinary capability that will ensure our future advantage over any potential adversaries.”

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According to NAVSEA, Washington is the fourth of eight planned Virginia-class Block III submarines, which feature a redesigned bow where 12 individual vertical launch tubes which are replaced with two large-diameter Virginia Payload Tubes. Each payload tube is capable of launching six Tomahawk cruise missiles—or they could be used to house other payloads in the future. The Block III vessels also replace the traditional air-backed sonar dome with a new horseshoe-shaped water-backed Large Aperture Bow (LAB) sonar array, which not only more capable but also more reliable.

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Once the Navy, Electric Boat and the Huntington Ingalls Newport News finish with the Block III submarines, the sea service will move on to building the more reliable Block IV Virginias. However, in the future, the Navy will eventually start building the much more capable Block V Virginia-class submarines, which will feature four additional launch tubes in a new hull segment called Virginia Payload Module.

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The first Block V will start construction in 2019 as the second submarine (SSN-803) built that year. The Block V submarines will add a Virginia Payload Module (VPM) that will add four additional payload tubes amidship, each of which can accommodate seven Tomahawk cruise missiles for a total of 28 weapons. Overall, the Block V Virginia-class will be capable of launching 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles from its payload tubes.

All subsequent Virginia-class submarines are expected to feature the VPM. The Navy is urgently trying to build more submarines as it scrambled to try to meet its stated requirement to for 66 SSNs. However, the Navy’s fleet will dip to only 41 SSNs by 2029, unless the service takes immediate action.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor of The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveMajumdar.