On the sixth floor of Tower A at the New London Facility a digital time clock counts down the number of days until a due date for the next Virginia Payload Module (VPM) arrangement design completion. That Design-Build team had 516 people working on VPM deliverables on this particular day. There were 143 designers, 308 engineers, and 65 personnel in purchasing, operations, planning, material procurement, finance and contracts working on VPM. By summer, there will be 650.
The ramp-up in people and countdown on product delivery are all part of ensuring the first VPM is ready for installation at the beginning of Virginia Block V in 2019. Target date for operating capability is 2026.
The schedule is set to ensure the U.S. Navy does not lose mission capabilities in the 2020s when SSGNs reach the end of their 42-year maximum service lives. When the last SSGN retires in 2028, the U.S. Navy faced losing 60 percent of its undersea strike capacity. The 19 Virginia submarines planned with VPM, with its capacity for 28 Tomahawk missiles, will help mitigate that loss. The 87-inch/2.2-meter width of its missile tubes also allows carrying unmanned undersea and aerial vehicles.
VPM will have four in-line, large-diameter missile tubes capable of launching 28 Tomahawk missiles or future payloads. The payload tubes are a complex undertaking requiring expertise from Structures, Fluids, Mechanical, Combat Systems, and Electrical departments. Installation may be three years away but making that date means buying materials, lining up vendors, and testing processes now.
One casting is 12-feet/3.6-meter wide by 12-feet /3.6-meter long and will weigh approximately 47,000 pounds/21,319 kg. Facilities upgrades and new fixtures are needed to support the modules’ tubes and inserting them in the hull. Also, a new barge will be required to transport it from Quonset Point to Groton. VPM will be approximately 84-feet/25.6-meter long. Incorporating the VPM into the existing 2B-5 module will result in a super module that is approximately 183-feet/55.8-meter long. That’s a big module to transport.
The current VPM is a descendent of the Multi-Mission Module concept that resulted from numerous configuration studies over several years. These configurations – part of the conform process under then-director Al Malchiodi – included removable payload tubes, a payload bay, in-line payload tubes in a wasp-waist hull or a full-diameter hull, and building a payload interface module.
By 2013 the Capability Development Document for VPM was approved by the U.S. Navy and the key performance parameters for cost, strike capability, and schedule were set. Delivering on those marching orders has been the goal of the VPM Program ever since.
2016 will be an exciting year as the prototype missile tube is built – VPM went from sketches to pouring castings. Also this year VPM will be validating the design of the integrated tube and hull, casting prototype, destructively testing the prototype castings, starting host ship arrangements, completing ship specifications, and updating cost estimates. In addition, the pressure hull confirmation model will be designed and built, harnessing the efforts of planning and people and then producing a steel product.
|Virginia Payload Module (VPM)||An 84-foot/25.6-meter-hull section with a low-profile topside fairing|
|Payload Volume||Four in-line large-diameter missile tubes capable of launching 28 Tomahawk missiles, or a wide range of future payloads|
|Flexibility||87-inch/2.2-meter-wide tubes allowing more payload options than standard 21-inch/0.53-meter tubes|
|Accessibility||Internal hatches on each tube for access to payloads|
|Whole-Ship||461-foot/140.5-meter long; 9,700 long tons (LT)/9,856 metric tonnes displacement; 40 vertically-launched missiles|
|Availability||Block V: Construction scheduled to start in 2019; initial operational capability targeted for 2026 long tons metric tonnes|