The Virginia-class, also known as the SSN-774 class, is a class of nuclear-powered fast attack submarines (hull classification symbol SSN) in service with the United States Navy. The Virginia-class attack submarine is the U.S. Navy’s newest undersea warfare platform and incorporates the latest in stealth, intelligence gathering and weapons systems technology. Attack submarines are designed to seek and destroy enemy submarines and surface ships as well as project power ashore with Tomahawk cruise missiles and Special Operation Forces, carry out Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions; support carrier battle group operations; and engage in naval mine warfare.
Virginia-class submarines are designed for a broad spectrum of open-ocean and littoral (shallow coastal water) missions. They are replacing older Los Angeles-class submarines, many of which have already been decommissioned. The Seawolf-class attack submarine was originally intended to succeed the Los Angeles-class, but production was canceled after only three submarines were produced due to budgeting restraints at the end of the Cold War, and the final submarine was manufactured in 1995. Virginia-class submarines will be acquired through 2043, and are expected to remain in service past 2060. Based on recent updates to the designs, some of the Virginia-class submarines are expected to still be in service in 2070.
The Navy plans to acquire at least 30 Virginia-class submarines, however, more recent data provided by the Naval Submarine League (in 2011) and the Congressional Budget Office (in 2012) seems to imply that more than 30 may eventually be built. The Naval Submarine League believes that up to 10 Block V boats will be built. The same source also states that 10 additional submarines could be built after Block V submarines, with 5 in the so-called Block VI and 5 in Block VII, largely due to the delays experienced with the “Improved Virginia”. These 20 submarines (10 Block V, 5 Block VI, 5 Block VII) would carry VPM bringing the total number of Virginia-class submarines to 48 (including the 28 submarines in Blocks I, II, III and IV). The CBO in its 2012 report states that 33 Virginia-class submarines will be procured in the 2013–2032 timeframe, resulting in 49 submarines in total since 16 were already procured by the end of 2012. Such a long production run seems unlikely but it should be noted that another naval program, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, is still ongoing even though the first vessel was procured in 1985. However, other sources believe that production will end with Block V. In addition, data provided in CBO reports tends to vary considerably compared to earlier editions.