WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Virginia-class submarine program reached a significant benchmark with the approval of Milestone III, authorization of full-rate production and the declaration of full operational capability Sept. 3.
Milestone III and full-rate production approval for the Acquisition Category ID Program came with the signing of the Acquisition Decision Memorandum (ADM) by the under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.
The achievement of this major acquisition milestone allows the program to continue construction of the submarine class beyond the established low-rate initial production of 14 submarines through the remainder of the class.
The last acquisition milestone for the Virginia program was Milestone II in June 1995, when the program received approval to initiate the engineering and manufacturing development phase. The Virginia class began construction in September 1998. Seven submarines have since been delivered, each with improved performance and an overall reduction in schedule.
The Milestone III process began with the successful completion of initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) in March 2009. Commander, Operational Test and Evaluation Force deemed the Virginia class "operationally effective," "operationally suitable" and "recommended for fleet introduction" - the highest possible ratings - June 23, 2009.
The director of Operational Test and Evaluation released the combined operational and live fire test and evaluation report in November 2009, deeming the Virginia class to be "an operationally effective, suitable and survivable replacement for the Los Angeles-class submarine."
Full operational capability was declared simultaneously with the signing of the ADM, recognizing that IOT&E had been completed and the first four submarines turned over for fleet use.
Capt. Michael Jabaley, Virginia-class program manager, cited the collaborative work between the program office, Navy, Office of the Secretary of Defense and the shipbuilders as the key to this significant achievement.
"Completing the required testing, demonstrating the submarine's capability in its intended environment and having it perform above expectations are a reflection of the commitment, dedication and hard work of the team," said Jabaley.
USS Virginia (SSN 774) completed a highly successful full-length deployment in April 2010 with the highest operational tempo of any deployed unit during that time period.
"Virginia met the highest expectations during her first full-length deployment," said Jabaley. "The fleet and support organizations, such as Submarine Squadron 4, Naval Submarine Support Facility New London, and Regional Support Group Groton, all worked very hard to ensure she was ready to go. With a deployed operational tempo of 85 percent - the highest of any boat in the Atlantic - it's clear the hard work paid off. The design of this class, the maintenance support structure and the ability of the fleet to superbly operate it, have all been proven."
The achievement of Milestone III coincides with the program transitioning to the construction of two submarines per year in starting in fiscal year 2011. Construction of the first two Block III ships began in March 2009 (SSN 784) and March 2010 (SSN 785).
The seventh ship of the class, Missouri (SSN 780), was commissioned July 31, 2010. There are five additional submarines under construction, and six more under contract.
Virginia-class submarines are built under a unique teaming arrangement between General Dynamics Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding.
Virginia-class submarines are flexible, multimission platforms designed to conduct the seven core missions of the U.S. Submarine Force: anti-submarine warfare; anti-surface warfare; special operations forces; strike; irregular warfare; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; strike group support; and mine warfare.
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