Searching for the Arleigh Burke Replacement Pt 1
This post was already in draft when Raymond “Galrahn” Pritchett published his own impassioned lament on the Navy’s obsession with building more large battleships on a stretched budget, specifically missile destroyers of the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class. Great minds think alike, or is it so obvious outside of the Navy Department that historically high-low mixes of ships have been the clear answer for maintaining a global Navy, and small but tough light warships are quite handy in wartime as well? Here’s is Raymond at Information Dissemination:
The Navy says they want a fleet of 300 ships. OK. They want 55 Littoral Combat Ships. OK. If we treat the LCS as the screening capacity for the battleline, that means around 18.3% of the entire fleet is the screen for the modern US Navy battle line, a battle line that based on current orders alone will consist of 11 CVNs, 87 AEGIS ships of the battle line, and 34 Amphibious ships… never mind the civilian manned, unarmed MSC. In the US Navy, 44% of the US fleet is the battle line, meaning the battle line is nearly two and a half times bigger than the screen to the battle line.
What are we going to do, use Amphibious Ships or MSC ships as screens for the battle line? Of coarse not, the Burkes will be pulled off the battle line to act as the screen, and do all the little dirty work for the fleet because there are no cruisers to do that work. Or will we use $2 billion submarines and have them act as screens?
To say Navy surface warfare is in disarray may be an understatement. Consider the future plans for the USN’s top Aegis destroyer. From the CIA Memory Hole we learn:
Some industry sources question the Navy’s logic behind the Aegis ship modernization program, arguing that the Navy lacks a sufficiently thought-through overall vision–a desired end-point–for the surface combatant force, and that in the absence of such a vision, the Navy is planning to spend money on Aegis ship modernizations in a scattershot manner, without knowing whether this will lead to the best-possible future surface fleet for the Navy. These sources argue that, before spending money on Aegis ship modernizations, the Navy should develop a more fully considered overall vision for the future of the surface fleet that looks at the surface force and the Navy as a whole as parts of a larger network of defense capabilities involving other U.S. military forces.
Twenty years of searching for a replacement to this workhorse 1980’s design has proved fruitless. Hopes were placed on the DDG-1000 Zumwalt as our future destroyer, until out of control costs and doubts about the design forced a change from 30 planned ships to mercifully only 3 of these 14,500 ton giants. It could be the Burke and her sisters have reached the design limit for this type of large multi-mission missile escort, and the only possible replacement may be another Burke.
As good a warship as the DDG-51 class is (now at 60 vessels and counting), there still remains a gap in our sea defenses with a need for low end ships capable of fighting in shallow seas. With threats mounting in the littoral regions, and rising powers such as China or India who may bear watching, there remains a requirement for a ship to linger close to shore, supporting landing forces, guarding coastal shipping, chasing pirates, and interdicting weapon’s smuggling.
The revolutionary littoral combat ship which was planned to fill this need, apparently has become so technologically advanced to be as difficult to build as the much larger DDG-1000. After a decade of development only a single vessel is in partial service, while the second is just beginning her sea trials, and the third recently begun construction. Needless to say, a return to basics in warship design might be in order.