In his Oct. 12 op-ed column David Ignatius called the Virginia-class submarine program a "Cold War legacy," but in fact the Virginia class was designed for post-Cold War operations.

Other nations are developing and fielding increasingly capable submarines that pose a potential threat to U.S. forces. The Virginia-class submarine is designed to operate and ensure access in the littorals, covertly performing multiple missions including intelligence and surveillance, strike operations, antisubmarine warfare, and Special Operations Forces delivery and support, while maintaining deep ocean dominance. The first Virginia-class submarine was delivered to the Navy Oct. 12.

At the end of the Cold War, the Navy had about 100 nuclear attack submarines. That number has dwindled to 53, and they are stretched thin meeting demands for their stealthy and unique capabilities.

The Virginia class is the planned replacement for Los Angeles-class submarines, which soon will be reaching retirement age, but the current build rate will not allow for full replacement of the remaining Los Angeles-class submarines before they are decommissioned.

So rather than cancel the program, as Mr. Ignatius suggested, the build rate should be increased to provide sufficient replacement submarines to meet the nation's requirements.

JOHN S. HEFFRON

Captain, U.S. Navy

Virginia-Class Program Manager

Washington