The U.S. Navy has announced the awarding of the largest shipbuilding contract in the service’s history. The Navy will spend about $22 billion to purchase nine new nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarines, with an option of purchasing a tenth. The commission for the new ships will be fulfilled by top defense contractor General Dynamics Electric Boat and subcontractor Huntington Ingalls Industries.
The new Virginia class submarines will be built at an Electric Boat shipyard in Rhode Island employing 4,000 workers. The contract will see the first of the new batch of subs delivered by fiscal year 2025 with the rest delivered by 2029. The Navy currently operates 18 Virginia-class submarines, which have been replacing the older Los Angeles-class ships, which first entered the fleet in the 1970s.
Navy officials said the nine new subs will be bigger, longer, and will have significant upgrades over their predecessors in the class. The new ships will also have the capability to launch strikes with 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles, compared to just 12 on the current ships. The subs can generate their own water and oxygen and can stay submerged for months at a time. U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called them “an unmatched tool for deterrence.”
The move comes amid growing concern about China’s military capabilities. Fears are rising that the U.S. could be outgunned in a potential showdown in the Pacific. The head of the US Navy in the Pacific warned months ago of a massive Chinese naval buildup and an inability to get enough submarines to counter it. The China Military Power Report from the U.S. Defense Department in May 2019 said the People’s Liberation Army Navy will field 65 to 70 submarines by 2020. In the next five years, China is expected to begin churning out advanced nuclear-powered attack subs similar to the U.S. Virginia class.