The US Navy's fleet of heavily-armed SSGN subs will run through their nuclear fuel supplies by 2026. At that point, they must be replaced at a cost of $US8 billion apiece. Problem is, $US8 billion is roughly half of the Navy's annual ship production budget. So what's the Navy to do?
It plans to stretch — literally — its Virginia-class attack submarines by an extra 28.7m to store 26 extra missiles (for a total of 40) and outfit them with an advanced sensory suite — at a quarter the cost of a new SSGN, just $US2 billion apiece. Sure the SSGN carries 154 Tomahawks, but there are only four SSGNs in the US fleet — compared to the 10 Virginia-class available. This modification will help spread the fleet's firepower out more evenly.
Once the Virginia-class subs reenter service, they'll be accompanied by torpedo-shaped "large-diameter Unmanned Underwater Vehicles" packed with long-range sensory equipment to act as a remote and highly-manoeuvrable extra set of eyes and ears. They'll also carry a UAV that can be launched from the expanded Tomahawk tubes.