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Arleigh Burke Alternatives

August 4, 2008

The Navy now seems dead-set on building more DDG-51 Arleigh Burke in place of the more expensive and less capable DDG-1000 destroyers. An article in the Navy Times details last Thursday’s hearing at the House Armed Services Committee on the USN plans:

Even though the Navy will resume building Arleigh Burke-class destroyers because the ships are cheaper and the costs are predictable, the eight new Burkes could get new refinements that set them apart from earlier siblings, according to a congressional report.

According to written testimony submitted Thursday to the House Seapower Subcommittee by Navy shipbuilding expert Ron O’Rourke, the Navy has several options to improve and accessorize the new series of destroyers that will resume with the ship carrying hull number DDG 113.

O’Rourke revealed some interesting alternatives that might make the new Burkes more enticing to Congress, the Navy, and shipbuilders, beyond the current Flight IIA versions. I will list them here and later some of my own proposals:

  1. All-Electric Drive:Taking its cue for the Army’s Future Combat System, the Navy could add technology taken from the Zumwalts and place them on new-build Burkes. This would include its all-electric drive system, a major selling point for the DDG-1000. The new engines would use 16% less fuel and add “just under $9 million to the cost of each ship.”
  2. DDG-51 Gunship: The primary armament on the new destroyer would have been 2x155mm Advanced Gun System which have a range of 63 nautical miles. These could be added to new Burkes, but considering the Navy now says that airpower and precision missiles are good enough for surface bombardment, we wonder what role this gunship would play.
  3. AWACS at Sea: This is an intriguing proposal which O’Rourke dubs a “non-combat adjunct ship.” The unarmed vessel would carry a dual band radar to guide missiles from other ships toward targets ashore.

For the most part, we are against more Navy battleships other than the 80 or so we now possess. These ships we think too costly for the kind of wars we most often fight, against Third World terrorist insurgents. But if the leadership insists on going ahead with even more Big Ship, we have a few proposals that might make the Burke more relevant for 21st Century warfare:

  1. Single-End Destroyers:The current DDG-51 design loads 90 missiles in VLS. Most European destroyer size ships carry about half this number. There were so many cells in the initial Flight I Burkes that the vessel carried no helicopter hanger. This lack of capability was corrected in the Flight II versions, not by reducing the number of missiles but further increasing the size, from 8300 tons to its current 9200 tons! We would return to the basic Flight I, reduce the number of missiles to about half and instead add on the hangar from the start.
  2. Arsenal Ships: This would be my favorite  proposal, giving the inherent stealth qualities already built in this all-missile warship. The first version would have been built on an Arleigh Burke hull anyway, and like the out-of-favor Zumwalts, would have possessed low-manning capabilities. We think this a lost opportunity for the Navy to have had a 21st century battleship in service at very low cost, with off-the-shelf equipment, for the wars we are currently fighting.
11 Comments leave one →
  1. charbookguy permalink
    August 31, 2008 7:46 am

    At the very least the USN and Congress would balk at the huge crew complement needed to run these giants, at least 1000. Plus there is the cost of fuel for the WW2 era engines to consider. Interesting proposal but very unlikely.

  2. James Refalo PhD permalink
    August 31, 2008 5:20 am

    The Navy should consider recommissioning two of its battleships; at a cost of 300M-1.5B per ship, plus the present value of 70M per year in operating costs for 20 years, the cost still falls well below that of purchasing a single Zumwalt. Using BTERM technology, the range of the 16″ guns could easily be extended to 100 miles with much larger (and more lethal) 10-11″ guided shells (shells in the range of 500-700lbs have been tested).

    The battleships are also impervious to smaller missiles such as the exocet and harpoon, and can absorb damage that would incapacitate an aircraft carrier and continue fighting. Air defence? There is plenty of deck space for several vertical launch systems with evolved sea sparrow, and anything else the Navy wishes to stuff in them. Anyhow, the price is right; the Navy has been focusing too much on operating costs. If they present value those costs, they would find them well under a billion dollars, thus again, the total cost of upgrading and operating a battleship is below that of a single zumwalt, and possibly below that of DDG51.

  3. charbookguy permalink
    August 4, 2008 7:14 pm

    Maybe thats for the best, considering the Navy’s track record. Once they start adding on the frills, there goes any savings which were promised.

  4. leesea permalink
    August 4, 2008 2:58 pm

    One does not need to go back to old brit ships. The USNS Pathfinder T-AGS 60 class of six ships are all electric with modern controls and good diesels wired to azimuthing drives. Been operating since 1994.
    I am in agreement with Galrahn, the Navy is NOT asking for any mods to Burkes. So what you see now is what the surface navy will get – no improvements however doable or desirable!

  5. charbookguy permalink
    August 4, 2008 1:58 pm

    Leesea, I’d like to see a couple of those Burke gunships in the fleet as well, even if not as capable as DDG-1000 as David Axe tells us:

    http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/08/old-destroyer-g.html

    West, a 16% savings in fuel doesn’t sound like much. The original proposal was that the power would be there for future weapons like laser beams and rail guns. Are even these worth the cost when compared to missiles and smart bombs. Sometimes you have to ask yourself “yes we can, but is it worth it?”

  6. west_rhino permalink
    August 4, 2008 1:30 pm

    All electric… how’s that worked out wiht the Royal Navy’s type 23s? Maybe a Nuke turning a generator that drives the mmotors that turn the screws makes sense or perhaps a magneto hydrodynamic design… should I get my tinfoil hat and suggest a teleporting Philadelphia experiment design? ;-)

  7. leesea permalink
    August 4, 2008 12:45 pm

    IRT O’Rourks proposals: and having worked on an all electric ship for the Navy, I really do not think one can be retrofitted to Burkes. Not against them, just conversions are expensive.

    My vote for Burkes mods is the AGS with hull plug for larger magazine. Doable and helps in an area the Navy is short on. Hell for that matter the LPD-17 class needs a major caliber gun. I don’t for a minute believe the Marines gave up on their need for more tubes at sea!

    The “adjunct radar” ship idea was modeled on (as stated) the Cobra Judy Replacement project which is in design phase at Halter Marine. USAF wants a ship with dual band radars onboard to replace the very old USNS Observation Island.

    Any warship which goes to see mus be able to operate against the whole spectrum of threats i.e. be trully multi-mission.

    Arsenals while a nifty idea and as stated a lost opportunity. Too far outisde to be inserted in the SCN. How about many NET Fires boxes on an LCS?

  8. charbookguy permalink
    August 4, 2008 9:50 am

    Ha ha! Yep, not as handy as they used to be. Pretty good for patrol duties, but a smaller cheaper corvette can do that!

  9. Distiller permalink
    August 4, 2008 9:29 am

    Sounds like a frigate!

  10. charbookguy permalink
    August 4, 2008 9:09 am

    The mantra today is “multimission” which often means a platform can do a little of everything and much of nothing.

  11. Distiller permalink
    August 4, 2008 8:23 am

    @ 1: All-electric with AWJ-21. Also looking into the Daring machinery – quite a piece.

    @ 2: Not worth it. Put MLRS on some commercial hull or LPD-17 derivate for real assult fire power. A gun is only good for sustained fire power – who needs that in amphib assault? Put a Marine battery ashore!

    @ 3: What’s this talk about ship-based radar for fire support? Can’t even see behind the next dunes! Gotta make it airborne.

    A proper dedicated Burke for AAW, and one for ASW. (Can do a land-attack version also, if feeling rich) would be worth looking at. They were almost there with Flight I, but then watered it down with ASW capability. Same for Flight II, that could have been the ASW version, but again they castrated the ASW aviation complex by keeping the rear VLS assembly. Makes no sense at all, since AAW and ASW escorts mission profile and movements within the task force are more or less incompatible. Can’t do both jobs at the same time anyway.

    But I think the main point about the Burkes now should be an upgrade and combat power sustainability plan.

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