- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 13, 2009



When Secretary Robert M. Gates announced the fiscal 2010 defense budget, it was greeted enthusiastically by many for the long overdue restructuring and in some cases, cancellation of major defense programs.

There is no question Mr. Gates faced difficult decisions given the magnitude of America’s economic problems, as well as the known military modernization programs by our potential challengers - e.g., China, Russia. Some of these decisions were Solomonic in character.

The decision to provide more surface combatant ships for the Navy by reopening the Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyer (DDG) production line while completing construction of only three of the 32 originally planned Navy’s future surface combatant Zumwalt-class DDGs is a case in point.

The estimated costs of reopening the Arleigh Burke production line vary from $400 million to $1.2 billion. Given that many of the original suppliers are out of business, the higher estimate is likely more accurate.

Another key decision was to proceed with the high cost and limited capability Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). When fully outfitted, it’s estimated per ship cost will be $600 million to $750 million. This ship is not stealthy, and it will have only limited capabilities to defend itself.

It will have no effective air defense system to combat hostile aircraft or cruise missiles launched against it from a land mass. Further, I now understand that the LCS is so heavy it cannot accommodate all the mission modules without becoming unstable in heavy seas. I have previously advocated that the U.S. Navy consider other platforms such as the stealthy Norwegian Aegis frigate, which has many more capabilities and is cheaper. This choice would enhance our capabilities and expand our force levels with a credible warship.

The original concept for employing the LCS in a hostile environment turned on the protection provided by the capabilities of a stealthy Zumwalt DDG with its dual band radar. The Arleigh Burke DDG cannot perform this mission because it does not have the physical space to incorporate the “x-band” radar required to detect and track targets amid land clutter. Even with planned upgrades, the hull and superstructure would have to be enlarged to accommodate a redesigned radar; the costs of which would be exorbitant.

There is no question that the Arleigh Burke DDG, even though designed in the early 1980s, is still a very capable general purpose destroyer in its current or upgraded configuration. However, it will not be able to provide effective ballistic missile defense while simultaneously dealing with cruise missile threats in a littoral environment.

By 2012, when China’s regional satellite network and initial imaging satellite constellation are launched, it is anticipated that it will also deploy its new anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM). This new class of ASBMs will have the potential to make any ship that can be located and cannot be defended obsolete. This includes our aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships, as well as other unstealthy combat ships such as the Arleigh Burke class.

The Navy will require a broad spectrum of Ballistic Missile Defense capabilities to counter these emerging threats, and thereby preserve the Navy’s most important role in the Joint Force - that of guaranteeing the capacity for Forcible Entry, anywhere in the world. The Zumwalt class destroyer is the only hull designed with the space, weight, cooling and power margins sufficient to grow affordably and quickly into this mission.

Because of its significantly greater electrical-generating capacity, only the Zumwalt class DDG will also be able to incorporate new energy weapons like the rail guns and laser weapons. A combination of these capabilities will be needed to provide a credible defense against the ASBM in its terminal phase.

When cost comparisons are made between the upgraded Aegis ballistic missile defense (ABMD) Arleigh Burke DDG and the Zumwalt class DDG, it may appear to be more economical to reopen the Burke production line. It is estimated that the Burke class costs will go from $1.3 billion to $2 billion per ship. The Zumwalt class was estimated to cost $3.2 billion per ship, but in limiting the buy to only three ships, the Navy will not be able to gain the same learning-curve benefits as it would if the ship remained in serial production. In past surface ship combatant ship procurements such as the Arleigh Burke class DDG and Ticonderoga class CG, the Navy achieved savings of one-third and more through a multiship and multiyear acquisition strategy.

Adopting a similar strategy for the more capable Zumwalt class DDG could result in comparable savings. In addition, shutting down the Zumwalt production line prematurely is estimated to cost between $2.6 billion and $4.3 billion, yet the Navy is silent on how it will budget for this needless expense.

However, if the playing field were leveled, the upgraded BMD capable Zumwalt with its revolutionary stealthy ship design plus incorporation of many new technologies such as electric drive propulsion with a lower acoustic signature harder for submarines to detect, an eventual long-range (200NM) rail gun system, an integrated power system and a dual band radar (both X and S-band) clearly is the most cost-effective way to provide the required advanced capabilities to preserve essential mission capability for the Joint Team. Implementing poorly thought-out strategies in the face of current budgetary pressures will cost us dearly in the future.

James A. Lyons, a retired Navy admiral, was commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, and deputy chief of naval operations, where he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

Sign up for Daily Opinion Newsletter

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide