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DDG-1000:Defying Expectations or Reason?

August 18, 2010

Artist's conception of DDG-1000 Zumwalt class destroyer, slated to enter service in 2016.

The US Navy has been on a downward spiral in terms of the number of ships it deploys, and things aren’t getting any better, except in some’s wildest fantasies. The expense of ships rises, while the budget shrinks. Is the future extinction of American naval power so hard to comprehend unless the trends are curbed? Writing in the Charleston Post and Courier, retired Navy commander R.L. Schreadley pins at least some of the blame on the Navy itself:

Where the Navy Department is particularly at fault is in its long-time mismanagement of shipbuilding and aircraft acquisition programs. Is it credible to spend a billion dollars for one destroyer? Fifteen billion (or more) for an aircraft carrier? Multi-millions for one fighter plane? No, it is not. Nor is it credible for the sea service to have two or more admirals for every ship in the fleet.

The statement “a billion dollars for one destroyer” should actually read “$6 billion” concerning the latest and largest American surface combatant since the nuclear powered USS Long Beach of the 1950s, the DDG-1000 Zumwalt. Even the original price tag of $3 billion proved too much for budget cutters, who subsequently dropped the purchase number from 29, to 7, and today’s only 3. Meant to be a shallow water battleship supporting troops ashore, it was soon discovered with all its high tech stealth, advanced tumble-home hull, and powerful electric drive, the designers forgot what was most important about a warship, its weapons. The DDG-1000 while perfect for fighting land battles, could not defend itself from air and maritime threats.

Despite all logic, the 3 super-destroyers are going ahead, and some are touting this as a major success story. Here is Christopher Cavas writing in the Navy Times:

Devoid of much fanfare and defying the expectations of critics, production of the Navy’s DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer program is steadily moving forward.

We, the public then are at fault for criticizing this much misunderstand program, which admittedly will deploy many wonderful gadgets, on the 3 lone hulls:

With work now proceeding on all three ships, program manager Capt. James Syring turned over his duties Aug. 6 after nearly five years at the helm of what is arguably the most complex surface warship ever built.
The program, according to Syring, is still meeting most of its cost targets — a claim he first made a year ago. But he declined to cite a figure for cost growth on the first ship, projected to cost about $3.3 billion.

More than doubled in price. Thats success? Let’s move on:

In the spring, the Navy deleted the Volume Search Radar from the ship’s Dual Band Radar during the program review triggered by the Nunn-McCurdy process.
Although the radar works, Syring said, “producibility problems” with the radome material protecting the S-band radar persisted, and the Navy’s 2008 decision to base future missile defense on the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and its Aegis weapon system eliminated the needed growth path for the VSR on the Zumwalts.

Recalling that we have over 60 of the Burke destroyers, with production ongoing indefinitely, the question is what is there need for a $6 billion supership, but less effective?

Moreover, software modifications will someday give the X-band some volume search capability, although the development of that software is still some years off, he said.

Someday, maybe, perhaps…

Delivery is now scheduled for December 2013. Then comes combat system testing and other work, so Zumwalt won’t be ready to deploy until 2016.

No hurry, while the fleet shrinks…

Meanwhile, construction of various components for the 600-foot-long, 15,500-ton Zumwalt is moving right along, and the ship is about 20 percent complete. Syring detailed progress on a number of the ship’s systems.

20% complete, the plans for which have been ongoing since the 1990s! Oh yeah, break out the band.

The first of two 155mm Advanced Gun Systems for Zumwalt is complete, built by BAE at Fridley, Minn., and has been shipped for proof-firing to the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. Testing continues for the Long Range Land Attack Projectile, the rocket-assisted bullet the AGS will fire. The shell has yet to reach its intended 87-mile full range, but the last test, in January, shot a LRLAP shell 63 nautical miles.

Why do I get the feeling the 14,000 ton battle cruiser is going to end up fitted with a standard 5 inch gun, as in all USN destroyers? Let’s not forget Navy promises of another wonder weapon, the NLOS rocket, supposed to be the primary armament for the littoral combat ship. Today we have another underarmed, overpriced wonder ship, and no main attack weapon other than a 57mm pea-shooter.

*****

The point of all this, is the Navy expects too much from too few ships. The much touted reduced manning in the Zumwalt, 140 compared to almost 300 in the smaller Burkes, makes one think they are transferring this false logic onto the over-worked Navy personnel.  This mindset from the RMA debates of the 1990s claimed that fewer number of high tech wonders could perform the functions of the great many weapons required to win the Cold War. Warfare then would be cheaper yet more effective. That false hope has given us a $700 billion defense budget, yet they claim even this is not enough.

Numbers still count. Despite the spectacular success of stealth bombers, M-1 tanks, and cruise missiles in the First Gulf War, the backbone of the force was still the Vietnam Era weapons. Today, the overworked arms from the Reagan build-up are being replaced by ever fewer numbers of super planes, vehicles and ships, like the less than 200 F-22 Raptors replacing over 1000 F-15 fighters. A further case in point is the Zumwalt destroyer. The so-called savings are only possible by keeping ancient weapons in service long beyond their prime. It is deceptive and cruel to the sailors who must work harder with less.

The fleet is headed steadily toward the 200 number, in the midst of immense resources and funding. So today we have 9 amphibious ships replacing 41. Currently 30 old frigates are performing the missions of over 100 during the 1980s. About 10 aircraft carriers with reduced airwings are also performing the mission where once it was thought 15 or more were necessary.

Now we have 3 destroyers entering service replacing an order for 29. This larger number was derived from the need to replace the Spruance class destroyers, the last DD’s or general purpose tin cans built for the Fleet. Strategypage shows us what was lost amidst the false promises of the Zumwalt:

Only a decade ago, the navy was so sure about the new DDG-1000, that it accelerated the retirement of a dozen of the 31 Spruance class destroyers, in order to save the $28 million a year it cost to keep each of them in service. These ships were not just retired, they were all either broken up, or sunk in training exercises. The dozen that entered service between 1979-83 could have been refurbished and been available until 2019. That was a lost opportunity.

In order to afford Zumwalt, they shrank the fleet. Now after a decade and many billions wasted, the Navy will return to its venerable 1970s Arleigh Burke design for new destroyers:

But the navy can afford more Burkes because this is a design that is the culmination of over half a century of World War II and Cold War destroyer design experience. Even after the Burke was designed, in the 1980s, the design evolved. The  first Burkes were 8,300 ton ships, while the latest ones, laden with more gear, and smaller crews, are 10,000 ton ships (what heavy cruisers weighed in World War II).  With a top speed of nearly 50 kilometers an hour, their main armament is 90 vertical launch tubes flush with the deck, that can contain anti-aircraft, anti-ship, anti-missile or cruise missiles. There is also a 127mm (5 inch) gun, two 20mm anti-missile autocannon, six torpedo tubes and two helicopters. The Burkes were well thought out, sturdy and they got the job done. They became irreplaceable, and thus this class of warships will last more than half a century.

I agree that it is a great design, one we are lucky to have. Yet, the reason the Burke is irreplaceable is not because there is nothing better, but because the Navy has yet to grasp the implications of new technology that is making weapons cheaper and easier to use. If the microchip has allowed computers to gradually become smaller, once they filled a warehouse, now many are the size of cell phones, plus allow tiny UAVs the ability to perform missions once the domain of whole airwings, or allow a guided bomb to sail down a smoke stack, why do USN warships get larger and cost-prohibitive?

*****

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. Hudson permalink
    August 19, 2010 4:23 pm

    Build USS Zumwalt as a technology demonstrator (and tribute to the admiral). Cancel the other two planned DDG-1000 ships.

    If the plans the Navy is drawing up to see if the AGS can be installed on future Burke IIIs turn out to be positive, build some Burkes with AGS.

    Retro-fit maybe half of the Tico cruisers with the 8″ gun mounts originally planned for for that class. (Why was the gun downsized to 5″?). That will improve the Navy’s ship-to-shore firepower with a less expensive gun and shells than AGS.

    Build small numbers of fire support vessels that mount MRL systems, 120mm mortars and 20-40mm auto cannons.

    Draw up plans for a smaller, less expensive all-electric warship to replace DDG51 & DDG-1000.

  2. B.Smitty permalink
    August 19, 2010 1:46 pm

    Sumbariner said, “Suuure… because a DDG1000 ship with a balsawood structure mast has made a great trade-off for that ‘stealth’. You could shoot a hole in the DDG1000 with a Springfield rifle from a 100 dollar dhow. You could cripple it with a single rpg. Makes the Cole look like the old USS Iowa.

    Is that the case? The first three floors of the DDG-1000 deck house are made of steel. The top 4 floors are a composite carbon fiber, balsa/foam, resin sandwich with a “composite ballistic screen”.

    One reason balsa was chosen was because it doesn’t burn as easily as other materials. Instead it chars first.

    It’d be interesting to know what the “composite ballistic screen” is designed to stop and where it will be applied.

    OTOH, the armored PVLS and other features are supposed to reduce damage from Cole-like attacks.

  3. Submariner permalink
    August 19, 2010 12:09 pm

    “DDG1000: Because the bad guys will never suspect the innocent rowboat moving at 30 knots 1000 miles from land with a helicopter landing on it.” (TM)

  4. Submariner permalink
    August 19, 2010 12:07 pm

    “The big benefit, IMHO, is its impact on the much smaller and less capable radars on cruise missiles, especially when combined with countermeasures.”

    Suuure… because a DDG1000 ship with a balsawood structure mast has made a great trade-off for that ‘stealth’. You could shoot a hole in the DDG1000 with a Springfield rifle from a 100 dollar dhow. You could cripple it with a single rpg. Makes the Cole look like the old USS Iowa.

    You know what the anti-ship missiles will be programmed to look for once DDG1000 sets sail with its big slab sides? The target with a rowboat’s radar return, <> and giving off huge amounts of infra red, and moving at 30 knots. It’s all a bit of a giveaway. Glad you’re not in charge of ship design.

  5. B.Smitty permalink
    August 19, 2010 9:17 am

    Chuck,

    IMHO “stealth” on surface ships has a different purpose than stealth on aircraft. DDG-1000’s RCS signature has been described as around the size of a small fishing vessel. So it still can be detected by maritime search radars at significant ranges.

    The big benefit, IMHO, is its impact on the much smaller and less capable radars on cruise missiles, especially when combined with countermeasures. Active defenses require a certain degree of stand-off for target acquisition and weapons employment. OTOH, “stealth” and other passive survivability measures such as armor, work at any range, with or without combat systems operating at full strength.

    In congested littoral waters, where pop up threats might provide very little stand-off and warning, passive protection becomes much more important.

  6. Chuck Hill permalink
    August 19, 2010 1:56 am

    To hell with stealth. We want a ship that is looking for trouble. That says “Give me your best shot–I’ll give it back in triplicate.”

  7. RhodeIslander permalink
    August 18, 2010 10:14 pm

    Unstable Hull ?? I think the NSWC CARDEROCK, MD. “engineers” who designed / approved that centuries old hull design should be brought back out of retirement in 2016 and made to ride USS ZUMWALT across the North Atlantic in winter and, if it doesn’t capsize, then be forced to ride DDG-1000 thru a Hurricane in the Caribbean.

    Just for the fun of it, pretend this new destroyer actually has an important destination and have it steer a course with seas on the beam for 48 hours.

    Perhaps the Navy can dock all the retired salaries of every engineer who has retired from NSWC CARDEROCK between 1998 and 2010 ?

    They have wasted almost as much US GOVT money as General Motors.

  8. August 18, 2010 6:26 pm

    Hello Eric Palmer,

    I think there may be an issue with your blog,it says Search at the top of the page and then there is a large blank space before the posts start.

    tangosix.

  9. August 18, 2010 5:45 pm

    The Zumwalt just proves (yet again) how stupid we are with our ship procurement. Brought to you by the same stooges who signed off on the LCS.

  10. August 18, 2010 2:34 pm

    I just can’t wait to see the thing in the metal…….

  11. Bill permalink
    August 18, 2010 2:05 pm

    @BSmitty and Joe: Amen on the cost numbers. And..we (us OEM suppliers that custom engineer equipment that we then suppy) are required to go to great pains to segregate recurring and no-recurring costs and report same accurately!..so its not like the information is not readily at hand.

  12. B.Smitty permalink
    August 18, 2010 11:39 am

    Unfortunately since AGS will ONLY fire LRLAP, which is essentially a gun-launched missile, it remains to be seen whether we can afford to stockpile large numbers of them.

  13. Juramentado permalink
    August 18, 2010 11:17 am

    Why don’t they just build some tomahawk-equipped submarines?

    Because NGS was and still is a capability gap. That’s not to say Zumwalt closes it.

    Not all major fires requirements are solved through missiles. Most precision strike weapons are unitary warheads – designed for point targets. If you need area effect, say against dug-in troops or to create a beaten ground, it’s most likely delivered via air or artillery. Arty is also cheaper by the round fired and can be stockpiled in greater numbers.

  14. John Tuttle permalink
    August 18, 2010 11:07 am

    Why don’t they just build some tomahawk-equipped submarines? We know how to build them, they can’t be more expensive, and they are much more stealthy.

  15. Joe permalink
    August 18, 2010 10:54 am

    B.Smitty said: “It does the program an injustice to simplify things down to a “6 billion dollar destroyer” sound-bite.”

    Amen. Just as similar “accounting” did the F-22 a similar disservice. To call it a $300M – $350M jet when, at the time, it’s flyaway costs were in the $140M range was a grand (and successful) attempt at opinion-steerage. Whether any program should go forward or be cancelled is beside the point…at least trust the public with the correct information by which to judge the program.

  16. B.Smitty permalink
    August 18, 2010 10:36 am

    I wish the Navy would switch how it reports costs to split out fixed development costs and recurring costs as separate numbers. It does the program an injustice to simplify things down to a “6 billion dollar destroyer” sound-bite.

  17. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 18, 2010 10:00 am

    Marcase wrote “Seawolf/Virginia SSN spin-off path.”

    Funny you should mention that! Stay tuned tomorrow.

    Juramentado took the words out of my mouth on NLOS. Because it was an Army program doesn’t excuse the Navy’s complicity.

  18. Juramentado permalink
    August 18, 2010 9:37 am

    Again, keeping it honest, NLOS was a U.S. Army program. The Army canceled it. Not the USN.

    Yet the Navy bet the farm on it anyway even as the system was on life-support. At the time that even the media had identified that NLOS was on life-support, the Navy still made the decision to purchase the launcher without a working up-round.

    Subsequently, that decision now impacts the selection of the MR SSM replacement, as any candidate has to work within the specs of said launcher rather than dropping in an entirely new system – ironic considering the Modularity so touted by the program.

  19. chbrow10 permalink
    August 18, 2010 9:17 am

    I’d like to respond to a few comments mentioned above.
    You said:

    “Meant to be a shallow water battleship supporting troops ashore, it was soon discovered with all its high tech stealth, advanced tumble-home hull, and powerful electric drive, the designers forgot what was most important about a warship, its weapons.”

    Let’s be clear, designers don’t select weapon systems. They design the product to meet a set of requirements. If there were a requirement for the ship to have AAW capability, it would have it. Who sets the requirements? The USN.

    You also said:

    “Let’s not forget Navy promises of another wonder weapon, the NLOS rocket, supposed to be the primary armament for the littoral combat ship.”

    Again, keeping it honest, NLOS was a U.S. Army program. The Army canceled it. Not the USN.

  20. Marcase permalink
    August 18, 2010 8:38 am

    I can only hope, that the Zumwalt follows the Seawolf/Virginia SSN spin-off path.

    So hopefully the three top of the line, all-bells-and-whistles DDG-1000’s will be augmented by “cheaper”, scaled-down but still very capable spin-offs.

    A spin-off could benefit from the “all electric ship” philosophy, and still have a good next-gen AEGIS with the new VLS system. It will result in a somewhat stealthier but more costlier super-Burke. Hopefully that one could be built in sufficient numbers, otherwise the USN DESRONs will consist of mere LCS…

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