On the Arleigh Burke Bandwagon
For once New Wars will join the media bandwagon in celebrating a rare modern US Navy success story. It is also no mistake that we inserted the Arleigh Burke destroyer within the post discussing the “Next HMS Warrior”, as we think such large and capable air defense ships are the New Battleships, at least for surface warfare. The DDG-51 class are affordable, a true multi-purpose platform, probably the most important ship in the current USN force structure. Here is the AP’s David Sharp with “After 2-plus decades, Navy destroyer breaks record“:
Over the 22 years since construction of the first one began at Bath Iron Works, the ship has steamed into the record book: The destroyer’s production run has outlasted every other battleship, cruiser, destroyer and frigate in U.S. Navy history. The only warship in production for longer was the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, said Norman Polmar, a naval historian, author and analyst.
Thanks to a decision by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Arleigh Burke destroyer production will continue for at least a few more years. The defense budget signed by President Barack Obama in December includes money for the first of at least three more ships. There’s talk of many more being built.
An extremely durable class, one of the irreplaceable weapons from the Cold War whose successor for future warfare is itself. Thanks to Aegis, and along with the Ticonderoga class cruisers, armed as well with Tomahawk land attack missiles, we see these ships are restoring the independent lethality of the surface combatant, lost to airpower early in World War 2.
The 9,500-ton ships can easily top 30 knots while simultaneously waging war with enemy ships, submarines, missiles and aircraft. Their combat system, called Aegis, uses powerful computers and a phased-array radar to track more than 100 targets — the exact number is classified…
The latest improvements are software upgrades and SM-3 missiles that allow the Aegis system to be used for ballistic missile defense. An Aegis-equipped cruiser built by Bath Iron Works shot down a failed satellite in 2008. Several Aegis destroyers and cruisers are now equipped with the upgraded system.
The last paragraph also proves their adaptability, and the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The planned DDG-1000 replacement ship cannot compete with the older Burkes in cost, numbers, or even capability, despite being about 50% larger:
The Navy originally envisioned building 29 of the ships, but has since extended the line to 62 ships through 2011…
The Navy’s decision is partly budget-driven. Burkes are less costly to build than the next-generation stealth destroyer, which the Navy and defense contractors spent 10 years designing.
Burkes currently cost about $1.2 billion apiece; the stealthy, and much larger, DDG-1000 Zumwalt will cost more than double that. In the end, the Navy decided to truncate production to just three Zumwalts.
Seeking a Burke Replacement
There may be no need, the DDG-51 class being that good. I would have a few suggestions though, if the Navy is interested in reducing costs while maintaining capability. Instead of the norm for warship classes to grow, increasing weights and weapons load, I submit that considering new advancements in computers, sensors, and weapons lethality ongoing since the Cold War, it might be possible to reduce the size and hopefully the price tag of new build Burkes, without reducing capability.
For instance, in terms of weapon’s load, you could build a single end warship with 60 or even 45 missiles, instead of the current 90. A lighter weight Aegis also would help reduce hull size, as on European frigate designs like the 5000 ton+ Norwegian Nansen.
Another alternative would be to simply take the Burke’s off anti-piracy patrol, giving this very low tech function to low tech warships such as corvettes and patrol craft. With a stroke the Navy could greatly ease the workload of our new battleships, allowing them to concentrate on peer threats, especially in the anti-ballistic missile role which is where such large and capable warships excel, a role the Navy is struggling to provide adequate platforms for, apparently. Given less work to do, you might make do with fewer large destroyers.