Just like on its sister sub that is already in service (the USS North Dakota), a new Large Aperture Bow (LAB) sonar array has been installed, a horseshoe-shaped system that replaces the spherical main sonar array which US submarines have been using for nearly 50 years.
The biggest challenge was to adapt the structure for affordabilityBut the biggest change is that the bow has been designed for affordability. Today's wars are not about apocalyptic scenarios where the Russians and Americans launch 1,000 nukes at each other. Instead, one or two missile deployments are enough.
Thus, this 12th boat of the Virginia class has a redesigned "front end". More specifically, two gigantic vertical launch tubes have been installed. For the record, older models featured 12, independent 533mm vertical launch doors and tubes.
Th Tomahawk has gained GPS, large wings, cameras and boosters, but it's essentially a 40-year old design. Now, US Navy submarines will have the capability to launch any missile, both small and bit.
The Virginia class has always been about offering hiding for long periods of time and having multi-mission capabilities. The USS John Warner can be equipped to deploy, recover and charge autonomous underwater vehicles (UAV). Yes, those are like the drones of the sea, and they could be invaluable if another Kursk incident occurs. Teams of navy seals can also e deployed without surfacing.