The Virginia-class submarine is widely referred to as “the world’s most technologically advanced submarine,” and for those who are interested, a significant amount of technical information is readily available on her capabilities. What many Submarine Force personnel are wondering, however, is when they can actually be assigned to this new class of ship. As Officer-in-Charge of Virginia’s Pre-Commissioning Unit, I encounter many people around SUBASE New London who notice my Virginia ball cap and express great interest in serving on a Virginia-class submarine. Often they are curious about how far along we are in the ship’s construction and manning phases. Accordingly, for these curious individuals I offer a current status report on PCU Virginia.
Presently, there are 53 crewmembers assigned to Virginia, with 39 nuclear-trained personnel, including myself, the Executive Officer, Engineer, Navigator, and four LDO division officers. In addition, I have two master chiefs (Chief of the Boat and Engineering Department Master Chief), and a chief corpsman, yeoman, supply chief, and a LAN administrator to round out the crew. The enlisted crewmembers have five-year projected rotation dates and are part of the first crew increment, called Increment A. Their initial manning date was 15 May 2000, after completion of the Reactor Plant Design School in April.
Increment A will be onboard through construction and sea trials, and remain until Post Shakedown Availability, which is typically about a year after delivery. Increment B will report in June 2002 and will include about 50 more crewmembers, including Auxiliary Division, Weapons Department, and Operations Department personnel. Three split-tour submarine-qualified junior officers and the ship’s four department heads will also report with Increment B. Since the Virginia-class modular construction program has required Navy operational support at a much earlier date than previous new construction programs, the Increment A OIC, XO, and Engineer will also change over at the Increment B timeframe. This manning sequence will be the same for subsequent ships of this class.
The Virginia-class submarines are being built at both Electric Boat (EB) and Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS). Each shipyard constructs about one half of each ship and for the most part repeats the build of the same sections each time. The constructed sections from each shipyard are barged to their counterpart, and the shipyard designated as the “delivery yard” for that ship completes the construction. The delivery yard is also where the pre-commissioning crew will be stationed, and where the ship will undergo an extensive pre-delivery certification test pro-gram. Therefore, the crew of Texas (SSN-775) (the second Virginia-class ship) will report to NNS; the crew of Hawaii (SSN-776) will report to EB; and the crew of North Carolina (SSN-777) will report to NNS. Homeports for the ships have not yet been assigned.
Since construction occurs at two separate shipyards, it may not be readily apparent how far along each ship is in construction. At this time, if the existing hull sections and completed components for Virginia were put together, she would be just under 50 percent complete. Texas is almost 30 percent com-plete, and Hawaii about 5 percent. Due to the way the submarines are being constructed, some sections are nearly finished while other sections consist of only rolled steel. For example, the forward part of Virginia’s Engine Room and the Reactor Compartment are so far along that ship’s force has recently commenced watch standing and testing in that section. Virginia’s sea trials are scheduled for March 2004, with delivery scheduled for June 2004. Texas is scheduled for delivery in June 2005.
One significant change in this new construction program involves the way the Control Room and Combat Systems are being manufactured and tested. The Command and Control System Module (CCSM) is now being tested with a large contingent of contractor personnel and some Navy personnel assigned at EB. Once the testing is complete, the CCSM will be slid into its hull section for future joining to the full ship.
Benefiting from the considerable strides the Navy has made in using computer applications over the past several years, the Virginia class will mark an impressive milestone in the use of advanced networking. Everything from qualifications, administration, and logs to maintenance and operating procedures – both forward and aft – will be managed on an in-house Non-Tactical Data Processing System. This system consists of six Windows 2000 servers and 12 central processors with the capability of storing a staggering two tera-bytes of data – the computing power and capabilities of the tactical side are even more complex.
The office building where crewmembers work while Virginia is under construction is located at the EB facilities and has a replica of the extremely sophisticated LAN that will be used on the ship. Using this LAN, the Virginia crew is developing a streamlined connectivity process and is perfecting methods of conducting business in a paperless environment. Taking the existing database and downloading it onto the ship’s network is all that will be required to shift operations from the PCU office building to the boat.
In concluding this status report, I should answer the initial question on many submariners’ minds: How do I get involved? For those interested in being a part of one of the first Virginia-class ships, Increment B manning for Virginia is scheduled for June 2002, and Incre-ment A manning for Texas is scheduled for January 2002. If you are interested in serving on these ships, I encourage you to talk to your detailer soon – it will be an experience you won’t regret. Personally, I have to say that it is a remarkable plat-form to work on; the advances throughout the ship are extensive, in both the electronics and mechanical areas. Everyone assigned to one of these ships will find significant improvements all around.
It is certainly an exciting time for the Submarine Force. The Virginia class is well on its way to becoming the core of the attack submarine force of the future, and it is today’s submariners that have the opportunity to watch it all happen. The Virginia-class ships, and their future crews, promise to be key assets in the future of the world’s most powerful Submarine Force.