United States Navy (USN) will soon welcome its 30th Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarine.

The keel-authentication ceremony of the future nuclear fast attack submarine USS Arizona (SSN 803) was held at General Dynamics (GDEB) Electric Boat’s Quonset Point Facility in Rhode Island last week, led by USN officials and GDEB representatives.

According to the Navy, the SSN 803 submarine is “the first US naval vessel to bear the name Arizona since battleship USS Arizona (BB 39) was sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.” The epoch-defining raid from the Japanese forces that fateful morning bombarded the harbor and sunk several moored vessels, including the battleship Arizona, which burned for two days and lost more than 1,100 of her crew.

“The boats in this class are the most advanced attack submarines ever designed. Their stealth, firepower, and maneuverability are superior to every other attack submarine force in the world,” said Rear Adm. Jonathan Rucker, Program Executive Office, Attack Submarines. “Additionally, Arizona will be the first of the Virginia-class equipped with the Virginia Payload Module, enabling the submarine to deliver an even wider variety of capabilities.”

Rucker stressed the crucial role of “building, operating, and maintaining” the Virginia-class submarines in ensuring that the Navy’s ability will be able to keep up to “an ever-shifting global threat environment, and to maintaining peace and the free operation of our sea lanes.

Following the Navy’s keel laying tradition, the ship’s sponsor, Nikki Stratton, welded her initials onto a steel plate which will then be permanently mounted in a place of honor on the completed vessel. Nikki is the granddaughter of Donald Stratton, a Seaman First Class who served on battleship Arizona and a survivor of the 1941 attack. After suffering from severe burns, Donald was honorably discharged the following year. However, he reenlisted in 1944 and returned to the Western Pacific aboard the destroyer USS Stack (DD-406) and saw action in the Philippines, New Guinea, and the Battle of Okinawa in Japan. After retiring, Donald spent the rest of his life honoring those lives lost in the Pearl Harbor attack and other battles until his death in February 2020 at age 97.

Months earlier, prior to Donald’s passing, the then-Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas B. Modly revealed the name of its two upcoming fast-attack nuclear submarines after the American “Greatest Generation” heroes, namely USS Oklahoma (BB-37) and USS Arizona (BB-39). Modly said it is time to bring these “hallowed names back into active duty service.”

“Truly, there is no greater honor I can think of for the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the nation than to build and commission into active service two state-of-the-art American warships carrying the spirit of those heroes of the Greatest Generation, as well as that of their families and the Grand Canyon and Sooner states as they sail through a new American maritime century,” Modly said, via Joint Base San Antonio News.

Once completed, Arizona will be the first submarine fitted with the new Virginia Payload Module (VPM), becoming the world’s most advanced underwater vessel. The VPM features four large-diameter, vertical payload tubes in a new hull section inserted into the existing Virginia-class submarine design, the Navy explained.

These upgraded tubes will enable future Arizona to carry additional weapons, unmanned undersea vehicles, and other undersea payloads. Compared to the previous Virginia-class subs, future Arizona will also increase the vessel’s overall length by 88 feet. Nevertheless, it will retain most of its other capabilities, including carrying the BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile as its primary armament.

An Even More Powerful Attack Subs

The Virginia-class Block V submarine is set to boost America’s undersea supremacy further into the 21st century and amid the rising tension in the Pacific. Unlike its siblings, future Arizona and possibly future Oklahoma, both will have “an enhanced stealth surveillance capabilities and special warfare enhancements” that will enable the new generation of fast-attack nuclear subs to meet the Navy’s multi-mission requirements.

USS Arizona submarine
Image source: Twitter

Designed by GDEB and Huntington Ingalls Industries, the Virginia class (SSN-774) is the current nuclear-powered cruise missile fast-attack submarine of the USN that was developed circa 1991 under the codename “Centurion,” intended to replace the decommissioned Los Angeles-class (SSN-688) submarines. Moreover, it was particularly designed to conquer the vast open ocean and accomplish littoral missions, including anti-submarine warfare and intelligence-gathering operations, with a service life expectation into the 2070s.

A typical Virginia-class sub has an overall length of about 377 feet, a beam height of 34 ft, and a displacement of around 7,900 tons. It is powered by an S9G reactor that generates up to 40,000 shaft horsepower and uses nuclear fuel that could last for as long as there is food for the onboard crew and no maintenance schedule. In addition, the sub has a maximum of more than 25 knots (29 mph) and can dive way over 800 ft (244 meters).

Arizona is part of Block V with an increase in height and displacement of around 460 ft and 10,200 t, respectively, making it the second-largest US submarine next to Ohio class.