- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Navy late Monday announced the largest shipbuilding contract in the service’s history, striking a $22.2 billion deal with top defense contractor General Dynamics for nine cutting-edge, nuclear-powered submarines that officials say will bring about a “generational leap” in America’s military might.

The contract, which comes amid growing concern about China’s military capabilities and the possibility that the U.S. could be outgunned in a potential showdown in the Pacific, will see the first of the new batch of Virginia class submarines delivered by fiscal year 2025.

“Our submarine force is fundamental to the power and reach of our integrated naval force,” acting Navy Secretary Thomas B. Modly said in a statement. “Today’s announcement affirms our commitment to the future strength of our nation, undersea and around the world.”

Rear Adm. David Goggins, the Navy’s program executive officer for submarines, said the contract represents a “generational leap in submarine capability for the Navy.”

“These design changes will enable the fleet to maintain our nation’s undersea dominance,” he said.

The Navy’s Virginia class submarines already are a critical component of the military and an irreplaceable piece of U.S. maritime capabilities. The craft can engage in anti-submarine warfare, target enemy ships on the surface, and conduct surveillance and reconnaissance missions, among other things.

The Navy already has 18 such Virginia-class submarines in its arsenal, but officials said the upcoming versions will be larger and will have significant upgrades.

For example, the Navy said the new craft will boast “four large payload tubes in a new hull section … increasing Tomahawk strike capacity from 12 to 40 missiles per boat.” Such an increase in strike capacity will be a major leap forward and could prove vital in a maritime battle with a competitor such as China.

Officials also said the massive contract is crucial step in the Navy’s broader Columbia program, which centers on replacing aging submarines with new, cutting-edge craft.

The contract “provides significant increases in lethality and performance for the fleet to support the National Defense Strategy while also ensuring we are maximizing the use of taxpayer dollars,” said James F. Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. “The multi-year contract also provides the stability needed in this critical industrial base to ensure we can continue to maintain our competitive advantage in undersea warfare while also providing a solid foundation for the Columbia program to build upon.”

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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