Virginia-Class Submarine Block IV Award Becomes Largest U.S. Navy Shipbuilding Contract

General Dynamics Electric Boat and the Huntington Ingalls Industries-subsidiary Newport News Shipbuilding were awarded the largest ever U.S. Navy shipbuilding contract on April 28. The nearly $18 billion deal is for the construction of 10 additional nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarines.

"The Virginia-class program has already proven itself to be one of the best, if not the best, performing shipbuilding programs in the country and we look forward to continuing our important role in building these submarines."

The addition of 10 more Virginia-class submarines will bring the class total to 28. The Navy currently operates 10 Virginia-class submarines, with the construction eight more under contract. "This is the largest number of boats ordered to date in a single contract block, which is great news - particularly in light of today's challenging economic and political environments," said Matt Mulherin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding, in a General Dynamics Electric Boat release. "The Virginia-class program has already proven itself to be one of the best, if not the best, performing shipbuilding programs in the country and we look forward to continuing our important role in building these submarines."

The Virginia-class attack submarine Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) North Dakota (SSN 784) is rolled out of an indoor shipyard facility at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Conn., Sept. 11, 2013. North Dakota's commissioning has been postponed indefinitely due to an investigation into parts supplied by an unnamed third-party vendor. U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics The Block IV contract award of $17.6 billion will see the construction of two ships per year over a five-year period. Construction of the first Block IV Virginia-class, SSN 792 will begin May 1. The final ship is tentatively scheduled for delivery in 2023. "Our delegation fights hard all year long to ensure that Congress and the Navy remain committed to building two submarines per year, and this contract keeps that commitment through 2023.," said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) in a joint statement with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.). Under the contract, General Dynamics Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding will each take turns building the reactors compartments and the ensuring the final assembly of the submarines. Each company will build certain parts of each boat.

"By continuing to produce two ships per year, the Navy and industry team retains the stability required to achieve increased efficiencies, providing the fleet with the submarines it needs to sustain the nation's undersea dominance."

The contract will split the build between the two shipyards, Groton, Conn. and Newport News, Va., which has industry base implications. "This award has great significance for the U.S. Navy, our company, and the entire submarine industrial base," said Jeffrey S. Geiger, president of Electric Boat. "By continuing to produce two ships per year, the Navy and industry team retains the stability required to achieve increased efficiencies, providing the fleet with the submarines it needs to sustain the nation's undersea dominance."

The 10 Virginia-class submarines in Navy service under Block I and II contracts are the USS Virginia (SSN 774), USS Texas (SSN 775), USS Hawaii (SSN 776), USS North Carolina (SSN 777), USS New Hampshire (SSN 778), USS New Mexico (SSN 779), USS Missouri (SSN 780), USS California (SSN 781), USS Mississippi (SSN 782) and USS Minnesota (SSN 783). The future USS John Warner (SSN 785), USS Illinois (SSN 786), and USS Washington (SSN 787) are all currently under construction as part of a Block III contract. The North Dakota (SSN 784) was officially scheduled to join the fleet during a May 31 commissioning ceremony, but that was delayed indefinitely while an investigation into parts supplied by a third-party vendor is ongoing.

The North Dakota (SSN 784) was officially scheduled to join the fleet during a May 31 commissioning ceremony, but that was delayed while an investigation into parts supplied by a third-party vendor is ongoing.

Virginia-class submarines have a displacement of 7,800 tons, with a hull length of 377 feet, and a diameter of 34 feet. Capable of speeds of more than 25 knots, Virginia-class submarines can dive to depths of more than 800 feet. The Virginia-class can be equipped to carry an array of Mark 48 torpedoes, Tomahawk cruise missiles, and unmanned underwater vehicles (UUV).

Life on a Navy Sub Relies On Rules: Some Dead Serious, Others Completely Ridiculous

ABOARD THE USS NEW MEXICO – There are subcultures. And there are cultures aboard a sub. Silently cruising the ocean depths while safely operating a 130-man tin can powered by a mini nuclear-power plant doesn't leave much room for error. That is why sub culture is built around rules, some dead serious, others completely ridiculous and some that are both. There are rules to run the systems that provide the submarine's oxygen, water and power. And there are rules that keep the crew, whose bunks allow just 14 inches of headroom, somewhat sane.

One of the most important rules has every new junior officer teamed with a slightly more experienced officer who watches over the rookie, mentors him and corrects his mistakes. It can be a fractious relationship.

Under the hard stare of Lt. j.g. Josh Bergeron, the mentor, Lt. j.g. Tommy Plummer makes a habit of fumbling the basics, such as how to operate a radio, which on a sub is notoriously difficult.

Lt. Bergeron watched as Lt. Plummer tried to make sense of a garbled incoming radio message. As Lt. Plummer struggled, Lt. Bergeron demanded he make his report, both men recall.

"I am making it," Lt. Plummer said. "Making it up."

For whatever reason, be it an effective training tool or an affection for Neil Simon plays, officers aboard the USS New Mexico love "Odd Couple" matches. Among the crew, Lt. Bergeron is known for his no-nonsense demeanor. Lt. Plummer, the senior officers note, often acts as if he were at submarine summer camp.

"Tommy is a bit of a free spirit and Lt. Bergeron is the exact opposite," said Lt. Randy Riewerts, the New Mexico's navigator. "So who did we pair together as officer and his protégé to stand watch?

" The New Mexico is a nuclear-powered Virginia-class attack sub, the newest, most high-tech boats in the Navy submarine fleet. It spent March cruising under the Arctic ice cap. Inside, the commanding officer observed countless watch cycles featuring Lt. Bergeron fuming over Lt. Plummer's performance.

"I actually get a lot of joy watching Josh's face tense up as he stands behind Tommy," said Cmdr. Todd Moore, the New Mexico's skipper.

Of the many important rules on the sub, there is one in particular that no junior officer is ever allowed to forget. "It is not OK to be new," said Cmdr. Moore, looking at Lt. Plummer. "It sums up the whole experience." Added Lt. Plummer: "Being new comes at great expense to your sleep and your happiness."

Which is to say, on a sub, inexperience is never an excuse. Weapons, engine and life-support systems might be difficult to master but, all the same, they must be learned and understood.

The pressure can get to any young officer. When making a report, the first thing a sailor must say is who replaced him at the watch station. Early in the deployment to the Arctic, Lt. Plummer came off his watch, started his report and began stammering. Among the more serious – but usually not catastrophic – errors a submariner can make is to inadvertently surface the submarine while it is prowling undersea, a mishap called "broaching" the boat.

Lt. Bergeron was driving the submarine in somewhat rough seas when he misjudged the buoyancy of the sub and the New Mexico lurched to the surface unexpectedly, giving away the boat's position.

An officer who broaches the boat must wear a pair of pilot wings on his uniform, a reminder that subs aren't meant to fly and that mistakes aren't quickly forgotten.

And so the next day, Lt. Bergeron, wearing the wings, was in a particularly bad mood and was correcting Lt. Plummer more than usual. As his watch in the control room was ending, in a grievous breach of military protocol, Lt. Plummer turned to his mentor and said: "Maybe Broachy McBroacherson could teach me a thing or two."

Lt. Bergeron looked at Lt. Plummer with what the other sailors described as a lethal stare. Rookies who have never driven the submarine do not make fun of the errors of more experienced sailors. Someone in a corner of the control room whispered into a handset, and the story spread throughout the boat.

The incident prompted Ensign Hughes to give Lt. Bergeron the power to beat Lt. Plummer. Lt. Bergeron insists he has never exercised his right. Lt. Plummer appreciates the mercy but said he fears he will never live down the comment.

"I am deathly afraid of the first time I have to bring the boat to periscope depth," he said. "Who will be standing there over my shoulder with the wings ready?"

Confederate Sub: Chemical Bath to Expose Hull

Scientists near the city where the Civil War began prepared Thursday to soak an encrusted Confederate submarine in a chemical bath to reveal its hull for the first time in 150 years, seeking to solve the mystery of the demise of the first sub in history to sink an enemy warship.

The hand-cranked H.L. Hunley -- which rests in a 76,000-gallon conservation tank -- will be treated with a solution of sodium hydroxide for about three months to loosen the encrustation coating the hull and interior of the sub. Conservationists will drain the tank each day and later, wearing protective gear, use hand tools to remove the hard sand, sediment and rust coating the sub before refilling the tank each evening.

"This is the end of the beginning" of the preservation work, said Nestor Gonzalez-Pereyra, the associate director of the Lasch Conservation Center at Clemson University's Restoration Institute. "In a year we may be able to have the clues." Removing the encrustation will reveal the original surface of the hull and with it any damage that could yield new clues to its sinking off Charleston, S.C., in February 1864. The war had begun with the bombardment of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor three years earlier.

The sub and its crew of eight had set off a powder charge that sank the Union blockade ship USS Housatonic as the Confederacy tried to break a Union blockade of Charleston. But the Hunley never returned and just why remains a mystery.

The wreck was discovered off the coast in 1995. Five years later, in August of 2000, cannons boomed, church bells rang and thousands watched from the harborside as the 40-foot-long sub was raised and brought by barge to the conservation lab. The silt-filled interior of the sub was later excavated and the remains of the crewmen removed.

In April of 2004, thousands of men in Confederate gray and Union blue walked in a procession with the crew's coffins from Charleston's waterfront Battery to Magnolia Cemetery in what has been called the last Confederate funeral.

Last year, scientists announced it appears the charge that sank the Houstonic was attached to the 16-foot spar at the front of the sub. That could mean the crew was knocked unconscious by the explosion and died before awakening. A closer look at the hull may provide clues.

"Chiseling away the concretion will allow us to travel back in time, potentially helping us learn what happened to the Hunley and her crew that night," Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, the chairman of the South Carolina Hunley Commission, said in a statement. When the Hunley was raised, historians thought it was farther away from the Housatonic and speculated the crew ran out of air before they could crank the submarine back to the coast.

Gonzalez-Pereyra said while the encrustation on the hull should be removed in a year, the sub will have to soak in the chemical bath for at least four more years to remove salts in the metal and prevent further corrosion of the sub.

Eventually the Hunley will be put on display in a new museum in North Charleston not far from the conservation lab.

Brothers Selected For Master Chief Share Third Advancement Together

When siblings join the Navy, many go on separate career paths only to see each other during the holidays. Two brothers stationed in Pacific Northwest submarine force, however, have shared several milestones in their careers including pinning on the rank of Master Chief together May 2.

Master Chief Machinist's Mate (SS/DV) Chris Konopka, the elder of the two, is the Engineering Department Master Chief on board USS Kentucky (SSBN 737) and Master Chief Electronics Technician (SS) Jeremy Konopka is the USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN 730) Blue Crew Chief of the Boat (COB). In a ceremony at Deterrent Park, Bangor, Wash., they pinned on the rank, and it was the third such time they've been able to share in a new rank.

"I can't even describe it. It was just awesome to see us both on the list," said Jeremy. "We were both up for it last year and neither of us made it. I'm so happy everything worked out the way it did. It's probably one of the best moments, I think, brothers can have."

Chris and Jeremy, whose mother was a Chief Hospital Corpsman, grew up together moving frequently due to permanent change of station (PCS) moves. The one place they both consider home though is Pensacola, Fla.

Both joined the Navy in 1995. Jeremy, having joined 11 months prior to Chris, convinced his bother to join the submarine force and they ended up being stationed together at their first duty station, USS Boston (SSN 703). During their tour, they both advanced to E-5 on the same advancement cycle.

In 2009, Chris and Jeremy were both Chiefs stationed at different locations, and when the Senior Chief advancement results came out Jeremy saw he and his brother made rank together a second time. Only this time, Chris was in the middle of a PCS move and didn't have access to the selection board results. Jeremy gave him a call to tell him they made it, but just as a brother would, he teased him with the results.

"Jeremy calls me up to tell me he made it, so I asked him if I made it. Then he asks me, 'Are you sure you want to know? Are you really, sure you want to know? - Yeah, you made it.' Then, my wife and I were doing the happy dance."

Eventually, the Konopka brothers ended up being stationed in the same geographical area, serving on ballistic missile submarines, and when the Master Chief selection board results came out May 1, history had repeated itself yet again for them. This time they wanted to do something special so during the ceremony, they decided to pin an anchor on each other at the same time.

"This is only the second time our career paths have crossed since both of us joined," said Jeremy. "We've followed each other in our careers, and it's great to be stationed close to him, but this is just the icing on the cake - that we could be pinned together." When the brothers joined the Navy, they had said their goodbyes to each other and never expected to see each other in the fleet, much less be able to share three important career milestones.

"I never would have thought looking back when we were both on our first boat together that we would be putting on Master Chief at the same time, much less pinning each other," said Jeremy.

For Chris, he feels very lucky to have had things work out the way they did.

"It's just awesome!" said Chris. "We not only got to make 2nd Class, Senior Chief and Master Chief at the same time, but neither of us was at sea when the results came out. I should buy a lottery ticket!"

NeRD For The Nukes

As a security measure the U.S. Navy limits the number of electronic devices the crews of SSBNs (ballistic missile carrying nuclear subs) can bring on board. That means no electronic book reading devices (like iPads or Kindles). That’s annoying to the crew, who like to read in what little spare time they have. Space is limited on a sub and you can’t bring that many books (even paperbacks) on board. So the navy came up with a solution, a book reader with no networking capability and no data connectors (like USB). Called the NeRD (Navy eReader Device) it is pre-loaded with 300 books and only has a port to have its battery recharged. Five are being sent to each nuclear sub so the crews can try them out.

Books can be added or deleted but you have to disassemble the device and replace the NAND Flash data chips. This does not make it impossible for a spy on a nuclear sub to use a NeRD device to store datastolen from submarine systems, but it would be impractical. For the effort required there are easier ways to take data. That appears to be the thinking behind the way NeRD was designed. If the user tests are a success a device like NeRD has space for thousands of books. The navy runs surveys to find out reading preferences of its submariners and thus periodically update the selection available on the NeRDs.

Down Periscope

When I tell folks I served on submarines, most of the time I hear, “What was it like?” and “I couldn’t do that; I’m claustrophobic.” Followed soon after by, “Why did you pick submarines?”

I didn’t “pick” the Submarine Service. I enlisted as a musician. I played bassoon. The Navy didn’t want another bassoonist. I also auditioned for clarinet and sax. Passed those auditions, but I didn’t want to play those instruments any longer. I figured I had started on clarinet in third grade at Castaic Union Elementary School and continued it at Peachland. Once at Placerita Junior High, Mr. Downs asked me to play bass clarinet, and in eighth grade I added bassoon. I switched between bass clarinet and bassoon through my senior year at Hart.

But I didn’t want to play a single reed instrument any more, so back at my company in boot camp, following my auditions I asked my company commander, Chief Machinist Mate (SS) Leo Yavarosky, what I should do. His reply was quick and to the point. “Go submarines.” I did volunteer the next day. I was hooked for 36 years with the Navy and a few more as a contractor. I love the boats. The Submarine Service isn’t for everyone. I like to think we qualified by flunking our psychological evaluation for the rest of the fleet. You had to be crazy to get on the boats.

Getting on the boats after basic training or, as sailors and Marines say, “boot camp,” was a long process. Schools, schools and more schools. (Even more schools once you were aboard a boat.)

I’ll never forget going aboard my first submarine after that long and sometimes tedious education.

Menhaden (SS377) in the 1960s.

The first submarine is always a special memory. USS Menhaden (SS377) was a modernized submarine built in 1944. I’ll never forget the smell. Diesel fuel. Cooking oils. Perspiration. Cigarette and other tobacco smoke.

Greases, oils and all manner of odors. It got worse if the cooks prepared meals that tended to increase the gases a sailor could produce. My calf barn-cleaning chores in Pico Canyon did much to prepare me for those smells.

I thought when I went to a “nuke boat,” or nuclear-powered submarine, the smells would get better. They really didn’t. I did have a new odor added to all those before: amine. That is a chemical used to remove carbon monoxide and dioxide from the air inside a boat. It leaves its own smell that permeates every article of clothing you take on the boat with you. I’ve got a couple of old uniforms that still have the smell nearly 45 years later.

That first time underway and that first-time dive. Was I scared? You bet. Couldn’t show it, because all of your shipmates would let you know what a “wuss” you were if you did. Plus, you were too busy getting qualified to worry about stuff like a few leaks and weeps. Imagine a large RV that can go underwater. Depending on the boat, there were 80 to 150 sailors aboard. Crowded? Yes. I was lucky and never had to “hot rack,” meaning I didn’t share the bunk with another sailor. Some guys had to do that. When one was sleeping, the other was awake and on watch or maintaining equipment.

We got fed four meals a day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and mid-rats. Serving times were 0600, 1200, 1800 and 2400. Up until recently, submariners lived an 18-hour day. Six hours on watch and 12 off to sleep and keep things running. Most boats have now switched to a 24-hour day. I don’t know how that is working out.

Back in the day, we had movies to watch and endless card games of all types. We held “casino nights,” and on long deployments we had “Mid Patrol Follies.” There was always work to do, and when nothing else was going on, we had “field day.” That is the Navy way of saying “housecleaning.” We did that at least weekly.

On the “nuke” boats, on deployment, I spent anywhere from 57 to 87 days underwater at a time. When we got near the surface, we got to look out the periscope at times. Today the periscope camera can be seen all over the boat on flat-screen monitors, but back then we got maybe a minute each to see things … like the surface of the ocean for miles in every direction, and a very special time when we saw Mount Etna, the volcano on Sicily, erupting. That was a great “periscope liberty” time.

Growing up in the Santa Clarita Valley, I could hike or ride up a ridge and see for miles and miles all around. On a submarine, the maximum direct line of sight might be 100 feet in the missile compartment of a ballistic missile boat. So when you get back to port, your eyes have to adjust for distance vision again.

What was it like? I guess I could say it was like being stuck in an RV on a rainy day with a lot of other guys. Now there are women on the boats. Officers. Soon I suspect the enlisted ranks will have women, too. There will be some changes made in berthing assignments and areas and maybe use of the “heads,” or bathrooms, but I don’t see a big problem with women on a boat.

Unless a couple is into some sort of exhibitionism, it won’t be a problem. Surface ships have all kinds of places a couple can get alone. On a submarine, the only place you can be alone is between your own ears.

It is also the only part of the Navy where no matter the size of your ship you still call it a “boat.” Tradition runs deep. Very, very deep.

And for those other questions: Deeper than 800 feet. Faster than 30 knots. Underway as long as there is food. Trash and garbage get compressed in special cans and ejected. Human waste gets pumped overboard via the “sanitary pump.” Oxygen is made on board, and the air is cleaned in any manner of ways. Water is either distilled or made by a reverse osmosis machine.

Even today, we old non-nuke diesel boat sailors like to say: “Every boat still has an emergency diesel generator as a back-up to the nuclear power plant and around 120 tons of battery.”

Gee, my RV has an emergency diesel generator and six batteries, too. Guess that is why I feel so at home in “Billy Bob” – my RV. Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s and attended Hart High School. After a career in the U.S. Navy he returned to live in the Santa Clarita Valley. He can be reached at and his commentaries, published on Tuesdays and Sundays, are archived at

Turkey Takes To MK-48

Turkey has ordered 48 American MK-48 Mod 6AT torpedoes for their new German designed U-214 class subs. These torpedoes will cost $3.55 million each. Turkey has experience with American torpedoes having used older MK-46s and MK-54s. This means fewer problems maintaining the MK-48s and integrating them into the U-214 fire control system.

The MK-48 entered service in 1971 as the Mod 1 and has been continually upgraded since then. TheMK-48 is a 533mm (21 inch), 1.7 ton weapon with a range of up to 74 kilometers (at 50 kilometers an hour) and a top speed of 102 kilometers an hour (at a range of 38 kilometers). The MK-48 can be controlled from the sub via wire guidance and has onboard sonar to assist in finding targets and avoiding underwater obstacles. There are numerous electronic devices on board to get around countermeasures. The MK-48 has a 295 kg (650 pound) warhead and uses a proximity fuze. Maximum depth is about 800 meters. The MK-48 is already used by the U.S. Navy as well as Brazil, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands.

Since World War II only three submarine launched torpedoes have been used in combat to sink something. Only one was launched by a nuclear sub (a British boat). The other two were launched by Pakistani and North Korean diesel electric subs. No MK-48 has ever been used in combat.

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