As the possible requirements and expectations continue to grow for the proposed DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class Flight III destroyers, so is the concern among defense analysts and contractors that the U.S. Navy may once again be trying to pack too much into one ship.
That is a particular worry for a ship that was chosen because it would be the fastest and most affordable way to deliver enhanced ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability with an upgraded Aegis defense system and, later, a new radar suite.
And yet it is the need to field the radar necessary for that upgraded BMD ability that is driving some of the additional requirements for the Flight IIIs. The radar is the Navy’s proposed Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR), and the service says it needs the sensor package to do simultaneous BMD and air defense at a level that is a magnitude better than what it will have with the Aegis upgrades.
The service conducted a radar/hull study in the latter half of the previous decade that prompted the Navy to truncate the procurement of the futuristic DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class ships to three from seven and restart the DDG-51 line – with the new Flight IIIs to be designed through the middle part of this decade – because it would be more cost-effective and quicker to enhance the Aegis system and put the AMDR on the redesigned Arleigh Burke.
“While our Radar/Hull Study indicated that both DDG-51 and DDG-1000 were able to support our preferred radar systems, leveraging the DDG-51 hull was the most affordable option,” Navy officials told Congress after the review’s completion. The estimated cost for two new DDG-51s is about $3.5 billion, while the current sticker price for the Zumwalts is a bit more than $3 billion.
The study is still classified, but a former high-ranking Navy officer intimately familiar with the study says, “Some pieces of it got hijacked. People who had an agenda kind of drove the study for a solution.” Defense analysts and radar component competitors say the Navy pushed to restart the DDG-51 destroyer line because of pressure from Aegis supporters in the service to boost that program.
Aegis-contractor Lockheed Martin, though, denies that there is any undue Aegis influence within the Navy.
Defense analysts, industry radar experts and even Navy officials acknowledge the dual-band radar planned for the Zumwalt would have been tweaked to provide BMD capabilities similar to those of the enhanced Aegis system.
Further, they say, the Zumwalt had other attributes – such as a lighter composite deckhouse and an integrated hybrid-electric propulsion system – that would have compensated for the relatively top-heavy and power-greedy AMDR.
Some of those design elements are being bandied about for the Flight III Arleigh Burke.
It is starting to appear, according to defense analysts and contractor officials, that the vessels will be built to essentially accommodate the AMDR. But the Navy’s top shipbuilder executive warns against following that course.
“Sometimes we get caught up in the glamour of the high technology,” Huntington Ingalls Industries CEO Mike Petters says. “The radars get bounced around. They get changed. Their missions get changed. The technology changes. The challenge is if you let the radars drive the ships, you might not get any ships built.”