GAO Probes DDG-51 Flight III for Ballistic Missile Defense
The United States Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) disclosed the findings of a recently completed study in a report that gives pause to revised plans to modify the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer as a platform for the Navy’s ballistic missile defense radar due to miscalculations concerning cost and complexity. The disclosures give renewed merit to the Navy’s original next generation DD(X) concept, lead vessel DDG-1000 Zumwalt, and another potential change of course concerning a prior reversal in acquisition strategy. EDITORS NOTE: Place cursor over photos to read captions.
In a highly controversial decision, NAVSEA had decided to re-start the DDG-51 class after awarding contracts that began new Arleigh Burke-class hulls at both the Bath Iron Works and Pascagoula Yards. This decision also reduced to three the number of DDG-1000 ships to be built, substantially increasing unit costs in spite of billions spent on the platform including the new Total Ship Computing Environment (TSCI), elements of which were to be incorporated into the Navy’s new CG(X) Cruiser. The decision to proceed with the Arleigh Burke-class DDG-51 Flight III was taken following Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticism of the DDG-1000 unit costs and the estimated USD $6B CG(X) unit cost. The United States Navy (USN) believed at the time this decision was taken that it would be more prudent to fit the required Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) to the DDG-51 than to proceed as originally planned with multiple DDG-1000’s.
Now however, the recent GAO findings show that the complications and costs of outfitting the 30-year old DDG-51 hull to accommodate requirements to support the ballistic missile defense mission system are an unrealistic compromise, opening an opportunity for the senate armed services sea power subcommittee to re-examine the efficacy of the original DDG-1000 acquisition strategy.
In addition to the USD 3.6B cost (one billion more than originally projected), a reduction in future weapons systems and complex form factor limitations would compromise the DDG-51 in ways that are unacceptable to USN doctrine. Replacing the current SPY-1D (V) radar with the AMDR suite of S-band and X-band radars also presents other major challenges including a ten-X increase in cooling and five-X increase in power systems requiring the addition of a fourth gas turbine auxiliary generator. A number of proposed mitigation strategies to overcome these power consumption challenges have been studied including the employment of a hybrid electric drive (HED) within a propulsion derived ship service (PDSS)architecture, as well as adaptation of the DDG-1000 integrated propulsion system.
Other options being explored include Service Life Allowance (SLA) modifications which enables the Navy to expand hull forms (beam & length) and weight parameters to a limit that does not compromise established speed, center of gravity & seaworthiness survivability rules. This is not the first time that the USN has pushed SLA thresholds in a bid to accommodate technology advancements into legacy platforms. For example, in order to acquire the Aegis combat system the USN reduced weight in the deckhouse design of Ticonderoga class cruisers, ultimately leading to an abbreviated service life due to hull fractures.
The DDG-51 Flight III and DDG 1000 acquisition strategies represent the latest in a series of NAVSEA miss-steps that will have long lasting repercussions to the United States. As a nuclear arms race heats up in Southwest Asia and commerce critical waterways and vital chokepoints come under increased threat by pirates and rogue states, reversing course on the USN’s next generation surface combatant will not only create USD $Billions in costs for the US tax payer, but cause national security compromises and delays to the layered ballistic missile defense shield at a time when our nation can least afford them.