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On the Arleigh Burke Bandwagon

January 4, 2010
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Three Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, the USS McCampbell (DDG 85), USS Lassen (DDG 82) and USS Shoup (DDG 86) steam in formation.

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.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. elgatoso permalink
    January 5, 2010 6:21 pm

    Two interesting topics not naval related that I remember :My favorite ” a all helicopter army ” and the other one,UAVs tank killers

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 5, 2010 5:49 am

    SSL-I try to cover other topics, honestly, but the naval stuff takes up so much time. Plus you give the people what they want and our numbers have mushroomed since we veered off into navy centric discussion. But I’m not going to change the name to “Sea Wars” just yet. I’ll keep striving for diversity!

  3. Sarcastic ShockwaveLover permalink
    January 5, 2010 1:07 am

    Heading off on a tangent here, but is there any particular reason why you only seem to cover naval related issues, Mike? Not that there’s anything wrong with that (it’s your blog, after all) but I’d like to hear your thoughts on some other areas of defence.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 4, 2010 9:45 pm

    D.E. you are correct. New battleships.

    David and all-they are hard to critique, and I think at least for conventional warfare at sea, we are way ahead of almost any other navy. Since we have this unmatched superiority I think we can safely deploy and even divert major funding into smaller classes as Mrs Davis suggests, restoring numbers to the fleet. Again I don’t the admirals appreciate the immense firepower and force multiplying strenght of their own ships, specifically the Arleigh Burkes. Let’s experiment and innovate.

  5. D. E. Reddick permalink
    January 4, 2010 7:57 pm


    With their load of 32 TLAMs and 16 Harpoon-equivalent AShMs, then the KDX-III King Sejong the Great class of AEGIS DDGs are a bit more than “a sensible air defense destroyer class.”

    They remind me of the proposed USN Strike Cruiser (CSGN) class from the 1970s, which was canceled by the Carter administration.

    The sort of offensive weapons load found aboard the KDX-III class makes perfect sense in reference to the immediate proximity of the crazed & belligerent North Korean regime and its program of missile development & proliferation.

    If we’re converting already commissioned Burkes into BMD platforms, then perhaps we should seriously consider building a newer flight with CSGN-like and arsenal ship-like features. Once whatever belligerent launches any ballistic missiles then we would have some diverse choice of multiple available launch platforms (spread around all sorts of axes relative to the belligerent’s launch sites) from which to reply (SSGNs, SSNs, DDGs, CGs, CVNs, DDG arsenal ships…) with TLAMs while the BMD platforms conduct defensive shoot-downs.

  6. January 4, 2010 7:29 pm

    I attended the launching of the Burke at BIW in 1989. The class has evolved massively in almost every way since then – the later flight ships are a far cry from original models. They will continue to evolve in the years to come. I confess, I’m a fan.

  7. nico permalink
    January 4, 2010 7:29 pm

    I like your idea. Navy should use the DDG platform to replace the CGs around 2020. You could develop a smaller platform with a SPY5 and smaller loadout to replace FFGs. Very similiar to what Airbus and Boeing do, they develop a middle model and remove or add frames.

  8. Mrs. Davis permalink
    January 4, 2010 5:29 pm

    The priciness would be a function of its electronics and weapons. And it would be probably be cheaper than a mothership and an escort.

    The Navy should look at it as its 10,000 ton chassis, sort of the way the Army sees the Stryker. Now they need a 5,000 ton chassis, a 2,500 ton chassis and a 1,000 ton chassis. Standardize the full form, power plant, command and crew spaces.

  9. Sarcastic ShockwaveLover permalink
    January 4, 2010 4:59 pm

    I’m a big fan of the Arleigh Burke class (I reckon Australia should have chosen it instead of the F100 Class) but I’ll be much happier oncethey finish replacing the CIWS on Flight IIa, as well as the Harpoons.

  10. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 4, 2010 3:21 pm

    D.E.-This sounds like something the Navy would like for its CGX replacement. I prefer smaller & simpler but more likely they are leaning toward your way of thinking. I must admit the KDX ships are very likable and a sensible air defense destroyer class.

  11. D. E. Reddick permalink
    January 4, 2010 3:16 pm

    Another thing that would make the continuing building of Burkes an evolutionary progression would be to adapt some of what the South Korean Navy has done with building its AEGIS KDX-III destroyer class (which have been derived from the DDG-51 Burke class design).

    The KDX-III King Sejong the Great class destroyers appear to be a bit larger and perhaps represent an improvement over the baseline Burke class. Given the proximity of belligerent North Korea, then it shouldn’t be surprising that this class of DDGs is more heavily armed than USN Burke class DDGs and the two similar Japanese AEGIS DDG classes. This South Korean class of DDGs carry 165 missiles. That’s better than 50 percent more missile war-shots than what are typically deployed on USN Burkes. Of course, replacing some of the loaded Standard SAMs with quad-packed ESSM SAMs could easily take such a warship into the realm of a 200+ missile load-out. Anyone for an AEGIS arsenal ship?

    King Sejong the Great / KDX-III AEGIS DDG class destroyer armaments:

    VLS – 128 cells:
    1) Mk 41 VLS 48 cell (Fwd) with SM-2 Block IIIB;
    2) Mk 41 VLS 32 cell (Aft) with SM-2 Block IIIB;
    3) K-VLS 48 cell (Aft);
    …a) loaded with 16 Hong Sang Eo (Red Shark) rocket-based torpedo (K-ASROC);
    …b) loaded with 32 Hyunmoo IIIC (similar to Tomahawk TLAM).
    4) 4 x 4 launch canisters (16) for Hae Sung AShMs (SSMs similar to Harpoon).
    5) 1 x 21 RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) SAMs.
    6) 1 x 5 inch (127mm/L62) Mk-45 Mod 4 naval gun.
    7) 1 x 30 mm Goalkeeper CIWS.
    8) 2 x 3 K745 Light Weight Blue Shark (12.75 inch ASW) torpedoes.
    9) Two Westland Lynx Mk.99 ASW helicopters with dual hanger accommodations.

    If we’re building more Burke AEGIS DDGs, then why not improve the production series in the fashion that’s been done with South Korea’s new KDX-III AEGIS DDGs. Or, even improve upon it and so create some AEGIS-equipped arsenal ships.

    For smaller, single-ended large AAW frigates I have to think that the lessons being presented by the building of the Danish non-AEGIS Iver Huitfeldt class of AAW warships are something we should pay attention to. Combine the features of that class with those of the similarly sized Spanish and Norwegian AEGIS AAW frigates and then we might have ourselves a smaller, inexpensive, and yet still very capable open ocean escort.

  12. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 4, 2010 2:28 pm

    It is about the right size for mothership, through likely a bit pricey.

  13. Mrs. Davis permalink
    January 4, 2010 2:20 pm

    Reduce the weapons load and make it more of a command ship/mother ship for patrol craft.


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