The new Virginia-class fast-attack submarine USS Illinois will arrive at its new home port Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Wednesday, making it the 5th such sub at the only Pacific hub for the high-tech and in-demand vessels, the Navy said today.
The $2.7 billion Illinois will be a welcome addition of underwater stealth for Pacific commanders who complain that not enough submarine time is available to meet mission requirements in a region with a burgeoning China and a recalcitrant North Korea.
The 377-foot Illinois was commissioned by the ship’s sponsor, former First Lady Michelle Obama, during a ceremony at Submarine Base New London in Groton, Conn. on Oct. 29, 2016.
Former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus at the time called the USS Illinois “one of the most technologically advanced platforms in the world.” Pearl Harbor has about 20 Los Angeles and Virginia attack subs — the largest U.S. concentration in the Pacific.
Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command on Oahu, in April complained that the Navy is reducing its attack submarine force to 42 from 52 in coming years.
“From a joint commander perspective, I need more submarines,” Harris told the House Armed Services Committee.
Harris said the submarine force deals with “the Russian submarine threat, the Chinese submarine threat, and they’re also involved in surveillance missions and other kinds of missions.”
About 230 of the world’s 400 foreign submarines are in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, with about 160 of those belonging to China, Russia and North Korea, Harris said. Potential adversary submarine activity has tripled since 2008, he said.
Virginia-class subs can dive to more than 800 feet and operate at more than 29 mph submerged. The subs have improvements to operate in littoral, or nearshore, environments and can accommodate special operators in a reconfigurable torpedo room. Traditional periscopes have been replaced by two photonic masts with infrared and digital cameras atop telescoping arms.
Illinois will be the first “Block III” Virginia-class submarine in Hawaii with two “six-shooter” 87-inch Virginia payload tubes, each capable of launching six Tomahawk cruise missiles, mounted in the bow in removable canisters.
The four other Virginia subs in Hawaii — USS Hawaii, USS Texas, USS North Carolina and USS Mississippi — have 12 individual 21-inch diameter vertical launch tubes.
On Illinois the traditional air-based sonar sphere in the bow has been replaced with a water-backed “large aperture bow” array, which the Navy said reduces costs and enhances passive detection capabilities.
Family members of the crew have already started relocating to Pearl Harbor and the crew will arrive just in time for Thanksgiving, the U.S. Pacific Fleet submarine force said.