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US Navy ponders prolonging Los Angeles subs

10th August 2019 - 19:00 GMT | by Marc Selinger in Washington, DC

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The US Navy is studying whether to extend the service life of some of its ageing Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) by 12 years to ease a projected shortfall in its overall SSN fleet.

The navy, which has already stretched the life of Los Angeles-class submarines from 30 years to 33 years, is now looking at whether up to seven of those boats could be made to last a total of 45 years, according to Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA). 

A class-wide study is due to be finished in 2020. In addition, each vessel will be evaluated individually based on inspection data. 

‘The purpose of the studies is to verify viability and identify what additional, previously unplanned maintenance may be necessary to support extended service life,’ NAVSEA stated.

The seven vessels being considered are among the newest and most capable in what is also known as the SSN-688 class. The navy bought 62 Los Angeles class from FY1970 to FY1990, 31 of which had been retired as of the end of FY2018, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

An extension to 45 years would require refueling the submarines’ nuclear reactors at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine. NAVSEA has received FY2019 funding to plan the first potential refueling but has not yet determined how much the refuelings would cost or when they would occur.

‘As the Navy has not yet completed the studies and designated the final number of refuelings, the cost and schedule [are] still under review,’ NAVSEA said.

While the navy’s 2016 Force Structure Assessment calls for a fleet of 66 attack submarines, the navy had only 51 SSNs at the end of FY2018, including 31 Los Angeles class, according to CRS. The SSN fleet is expected to shrink to 42 vessels in the late 2020s before rebounding and reaching 66 in FY2048.

‘Some observers are concerned that this projected valley - a consequence of having procured a relatively small number of SSNs during the 1990s, in the early years of the post-Cold War era - could lead to a period of heightened operational strain for the SSN force, and perhaps a period of weakened conventional deterrence against potential adversaries such as China,’ CRS wrote in a June report.

The navy began fielding Los Angeles-class boats in 1976 and is buying about two Virginia-class submarines a year to replace them. General Dynamics’ Electric Boat division and Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding division built the Los Angeles class and are constructing the Virginia class.

Marc Selinger

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Marc Selinger


Marc is a freelance contributor to Shephard Media's news streams, with decades of experience writing …

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