DDG-1000:Defying Expectations or Reason?
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?
- Inside the Navy’s next-generation destroyer (news.cnet.com)
- BAE Systems to Modernize Destroyers Under U.S. Navy Ship Repair Contract (eon.businesswire.com)