Dakota a stealthier modified Virginia submarine

The USS South Dakota (SSN-790) will be the first acoustic superiority test submarine when she is delivered in late 2017. During her one-year post-shakedown availability (PSA) in 2018, South Dakota will receive some fairly significant modifications from the baseline Virginia-class submarine that are expected to be tested at sea starting in 2019 and running through 2020.

The modifications include new acoustical hull coatings, a series of machinery improvements inside the hull and the addition of two new large vertical sonar arrays—one on each side. The new sonar arrays “provide a significant advantage in the ability to detect other submarines before you yourself are in a position to be detected,” Jabaley said. Meanwhile, the machinery improvements also promise some “significant return on investment.”

Additionally, South Dakota will receive a new enhanced propulsor design, which is being added during construction. However, if the new propulsor design proves to be less than successful, the Navy plans to replace it during the boat’s post-shakedown availability. “South Dakota will have an improved enhanced hybrid propulsor that we have developed with DARPA,” Jabaley said. “It promises to present a significant acoustic advantage.”

If the Dakota modifications are successful they will adopted for all new Virginia and Ohio replacement submarines and back fit onto many older Virginia class submarines.

Richard added that the idea that submarines are going to be rendered obsolete reemerges every five to ten years as some new technology emerges. However, given the “brutal” physics of the undersea domain, most of those new technologies never quite live up to the hype.