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Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake 

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By Ben Freeman 



The U.S. Navy’s DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyers are extraordinarily expensive. Since 2009, the cost of the ships has increased 34.4 percent, according to the Congressional Research Service. Each of the three Zumwalt’s being built will cost taxpayers around $3.4 billion. And, that’s on top of the more than $9 billion in research and design funding that has gone into this program.

Are they worth the price? The Navy didn’t think so in 2009 when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced the program would end with the procurement of just three ships, down from the 32 ships the Navy had initially planned to buy.

But, now that the first Zumwalt is actually in the water, there’s growing concern that this decision may have been penny wise and pound foolish, as it leaves significant voids in the Navy’s ability to adapt to future threats. Most notably, ending the Zumwalt program in favor of buying upgraded versions of the decades-old Arleigh-Burke DDG-51 destroyers limits the Navy’s capabilities without significantly reducing costs.

While the DDG-51 is designed to be a traditional destroyer that serves a largely defensive role, the DDG-1000 is an immensely powerful battleship. The epitome of this power is the ship’s two 155 mm guns, which are the largest guns fitted on any post-World War II ship. The blandly named advanced gun system can devastate targets up to 63 nautical miles away, three times as far as the DDG-51’s guns. There are 600 rounds of ammo on the ship, and the guns can keep firing while more ammunition is brought onboard, resulting in what the Navy calls an “infinite magazine.”

According to the Zumwalt’s commanding officer Capt. James Kirk, “She has got a flight deck almost two times the size of a Burke’s,” that can accommodate significantly more, and bigger, aircraft.

While its traditional weapons are extraordinary, the Zumwalt’s true power lies in its ability to generate, well, power. When the first-of-class Zumwalt lit-off its power generators late last month it became literally the most powerful destroyer in U.S. navy history, producing 78 megawatts, enough energy to power about 10,000 homes. Conversely, DDG-51s produce just 9 megawatts of power, with only 1.7 megawatts remaining when the ship is at speed, compared to the 58 megawatts a Zumwalt still has available when traveling at 20 knots.

This extra power gives DDG-1000s the ability to operate electrically powered weapons like the electromagnetic railgun, which uses nothing but energy to launch projectiles at speeds up to Mach 7.5, and has been described by the Office of Naval Research as, “a true warfighter game changer.” The DDG-1000s will also be able to use the Navy’s laser weapon system, which has a demonstrated ability to shoot down aircraft and swarm boats. With it the Navy will be “spending about $1 per shot on a directed-energy source that never runs out and gives us an alternative to firing costly munitions at inexpensive threats,” according to Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder. In contrast, the DDG-51’s surface-to-air missiles cost $165,400 per shot.

In addition to its power, the Zumwalt can accommodate these next-generation weapons because it has the space for them. Zumwalts are significantly larger than DDG-51s — approximately 100 feet longer, 13 feet wider, and displace over 50 percent more water. They also have plenty of what the Navy refers to as “growth margin,” which allows weight to be added to ships without excessively inhibiting performance. “The 15,000-ton ship has a 10 percent growth margin, equating to some 1,500 tons of potential increase that would enable the ship to host new sensors and weapons as technologies evolve,” according to an article in Naval War College Review.

Despite this added weight and space, DDG-1000s can operate in shallower, close-to-shore littoral waters compared to the DDG-51s, and their stealthy hull design makes them look like fishing boats to enemy radar. This allows them to travel into areas where the DDG-51s can’t safely go, like the Persian Gulf near Iran or the Yellow Sea near North Korea. They can also “provide the defensive support needed in littoral environments by a lower-cost littoral combat ship (LCS) with no defensive capability,” according to John Young, formerly the Navy’s assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition.

The problem with using DDG-51s in lieu of DDG-1000s is that they are “ill-suited to providing defensive cover for LCS or helping the Navy conduct operations in a coastal environment,” says Young.

Thus, it’s not at all clear how LCS will be able to safely operate in littoral waters given that, alone, it’s “not expected to be survivable in high-intensity combat,” according to J. Michael Gilmore, Defense Department director of operational test and evaluation.

The ability to use extremely inexpensive electric weapons is only the beginning of the DDG-1000s cost-saving advantages over the DDG-51. Unlike DDG-51s, DDG-1000s are equipped with a variety of new technologies that allow the ship to operate with a much smaller crew — roughly half that of the DDG-51s. Over the course of a 35-year service life this personnel difference could save taxpayers $280 million per ship, given that Defense Department estimates DDG-51 personnel cost at approximately $20 million per year/ship, compared to just $12 million for the DDG-1000’s crew, adjusting for inflation.

While we know that DDG-51s will cost more to operate, there’s less certainty about the purchase price of upgraded DDG-51s. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the upgraded “Flight III” DDG-51 destroyers will cost about $1.9 billion each, but there’s ample evidence from the Government Accountability Office that the price could be significantly higher.

Young warned more than six years ago that “the cost of a redesigned DDG-51 very likely will be equal to or greater than that of a DDG-1000.” Compound this with the higher operating costs of the DDG-51s, and the decision to procure them at the expense of DDG-1000s isn’t penny wise and pound foolish, it’s just foolish.

Given all of this, how could the Navy have possibly chosen the DDG-51 Flight III over the DDG-1000? In short: a flawed study.

The basis for the choice was the Navy’s 2009 Radar/Hull study, which the Government Accountability Office in 2012 explained “may not provide a sufficient analytical basis for a decision of this magnitude,” because it, “does not fully evaluate the capabilities of different shipboard combat systems and ship options under consideration, does not include a thorough trade-off analysis that would compare the relative costs and benefits of different solutions under consideration or provide robust insight into all cost alternatives, and assumes a significantly reduced threat environment from other Navy analyses.”

A Navy officer intimately familiar with the study told Aviation Week that parts of the study were “hijacked” and that “People who had an agenda kind of drove the study for a solution.”
Researchers at the University of Tennessee conducted an analysis of Navy destroyers that didn’t succumb to these errors and they found that, “when the DDG-51 and DDG-1000 are compared with respect to threat environment, the DDG-1000 … would be significantly more survivable. Even in smaller numbers, the more survivable vessel presents a more substantial capability throughout the threat envelope.” Similarly, CRS also argues that the DDG-1000, with upgraded radar and ballistic missile defense capability, is an acquisition option Congress may wish to consider.

All of these comparisons between DDG-51s and DDG-1000s belie the fact that the ships should not be competitors; they serve different, but complementary roles that are both essential for the future of the U.S. Navy. Fortunately, it’s not too late for Congress to act — the DDG-1000 production line is still hot. If we’re serious about having a Navy that can adapt to the threats of tomorrow, then we need to get serious about DDG-1000’s today.

Ben Freeman, Ph.D., is senior policy adviser in the national security program at Third Way, a centrist think tank. Follow him on Twitter @BenFreemanDC

Photo Credit: Navy
Reader Comments

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

I am completely at a loss as to why the US Military continues to waste billions and billions of dollars on ridiculous projects like Zumwalt and LCS. The only reason that I can see is the current fast speed of technological advancement. Take the Zumwalt for instance the new power systems are fairly well advanced and are now being used on various other major naval projects worldwide, the rail guns are new and have yet to be fully developed, the radars, electronics, missiles etc. are fairly well developed and the stealth attributes seem to be over developed at the expense of one of the most vital attributes of a warship i.e. seaworthiness. With so many large technological flaws it is no wonder the original project was so over budget and delayed. It should never have been put into full scale production in with so many outstanding issues. Surely the sensible thing to have done would have been to build a half way ship That can handle the more developed new technology like the Electric Power System, current radars, missiles and electronics and with stealthy worthiness. Space could be left for advanced rail guns and other new technology to be fitted later. A ship that might have fitted the bill would be something like a much larger and faster UK Type 26 frigate.

UKExpat on 03/04/2016 at 08:18

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

Yes, I concur with most of your comments regarding a BIG mistake to cancel such a technologically advanced vessel. I will revisit a comment that Dick Cheney once said on CNN (2004) when the F22 Raptor was drastically reduced in quantities(750 to 187)....how big do you think China is??? So in terms of this vessel, look how many nautical miles of coastline China, North Korea, Iran & now the new opposing threats from the Putin regime "Russia" has. Just two weeks ago, we had a new Russia intel ship slowly navigating the eastern coastline from Canada to Kings Bay Georgia & watch our boomers (SSBN’s) & gather intel on underwater SEACOM. Hopefully Obama will not finish his term & a new commander in chief will take the helm & guide our demilitarized country quickly out of our current crisis.

Waldo on 09/15/2015 at 18:34

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

The original allotment of 10 had something to do with the carrier task force. The NAVY does need this type of ship and 15 would be a more logical number. Enough to be a part of the carrier strike force and 5 more to operate when aircraft are not needed for a small strike mission. It is true there is a gap between LCS and DDG1000. A new Frigate or DE is needed to fill the gap between the two. The FFGs are being rapidly retired and a replacement is in order. A DDG 51 III maybe to old and big for that role, definitely a step in the wrong direction.

Mike on 09/01/2015 at 10:06

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

I find it pretty funny all the people who knock off railguns don't even know the Navy is already planning on placing one on a test bed for trials. The projected range of a railgun, at present times, is 150nm or so, but I believe that range might be even further. The Zumwalt would have been a perfect ship to put these weapons on as it could generate power for railguns with plenty to spare. Yes, it is fairly large at the moment, however the damn thing does not use any propellant, and the shell itself is relatively cheap to manufacture. Far cheaper then any propellant-based weapon that is used in the Navy at present.

LaughsatIdiots on 08/22/2015 at 05:14

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

What we really need to do is to go back to the drawing board, utilizing existing technologies with modularity, for one surface ship that can do everything (Frigate's ASW capacity, Cruisers ASuW, AA, and ABM capacity, and a battleships shore bombardment capacity) except launch a "conventional" plane off it. This will keep costs from ballooning. Then we produce that and only that for an exceptionally long period of time.

Tasks include networked battle group work, independent sea control, littoral dominance, supporting amphibious operations.

What we need, is a next generation combat ship that has the following capabilities.

A full AEGIS system (Not AEGIS lite) for AA and ABM work as part of a networked fleet and independent action.
A large capacity VLS for multiple mission roles.
A top of the line, complete ASW system.
A battleship gun for traditional shore support.
A very sophisticated anti-missile defense system (both ballistic and cruise)
A sophisticated anti-swarm surface warfare system.
As small of a superstructure as possible to keep costs down.
Limited crew.
Stealthy.
Littoral capable.
Cost-effective.

In short, the Zumwalt could not effectively do all of this, so they (the navy and associated contractors) need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a solution that fits every surface warfare capacity role in a cost effective way while retaining the capacity to leverage advanced technology.

Monkey on 07/29/2015 at 10:44

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

Building in reserves for future railguns, lasers, masers, etc., that also render the platform stealthier in the process may have merit, but if these energy weapons were close to viability there would be a major funding push to field them in every major military on the planet.
I would argue that the real mistake was not selecting a bigger gun, reclassify them as CAG's or BBG's and up the guns to 250mm-L100's that can fire ~500lbs shells to as much as 500-1000km, then you will have a dominant and effective platform. The technology is already available, some it was 100 years ago, in the present everything needed to bring overmatching pinpoint terminal effects exists.

Futurist on 07/29/2015 at 10:25

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

Developing rail guns or laser weapons is a waste of money without a capable delivery system.Bottom line.

jimbob3744 on 07/25/2015 at 11:27

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

Cancelling the DDG-1000 and going back to the DDG-51 was a mistake. However, the entire premise of the DDG-1000 was a misplacement of priorities. A very expensive artillery platform is the last thing the Navy needs right now. Before you can talk about sitting off the coast and lobbing 155mm shells, you need to beat the enemy's navies and air forces. To do that the DDG-1000 is exactly the wrong specifications. What is needed is a high-low combination of an extremely capable destroyer and an affordable (but truly multi-role) frigate. The DDG-1000 ought to be cancelled, but the hull should be recycled into a Next Gen Aegis platform with about 120 missiles and the Dual Band Radar (already developed). The gun can be a single Mk45/L62. Whats arguably more urgently needed is a good frigate to replace the Perrys and fill out the numbers. A "DDG-500" displacing 4000 tons, carrying 40 missiles, mounting the SPY-3 (only) and a single 57mm gun and having half the Zumwalt's propulsion system will do just that with a helo, a few torpedo tubes and the SQR-20 towed array.

dwight on 07/17/2015 at 12:56

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

It seems to me that any cost savings from crew size reduction on the DDG 1000 compared to the DDG 51 is a rather moot point. Unless the Navy actually reduces total personnel in the Fleet, then all that is being done is robbing Peter to pay Paul...

Tim Armentrout on 06/16/2015 at 06:41

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

In the commercial world, it would would be a no-brainer. Invest in a heavily upgraded, maxed out platform that can keep up with today's challenges, or invest for slightly more, in a new platform with room to grow and test out and develope new systems, that can deal easily with today's challenges and be able to keep up with ones we don;t even know about yet. Seriously...this is like pre ww2 powers investing time and resources into battleships when everyone else who didn't want to protect their battle ship command prestige or potential, were banking on the aircraft carrier and submarines. The nature of warfare always drifts to greater stand off and stealth capability.

Bryan Russo on 05/26/2015 at 17:33

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

DDG-1000 is hardly a destroyer type. Judging by the displacement, main battery, and intended use of the ship, it should be classed as a CLG, or guided missile light cruiser.

Dallas Crow on 05/07/2015 at 22:07

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

Brilliant article. The facts are all there and it very obvious that the ddg 1000 project should not have been cancelled. If progress is our goal than why would we proceed to use outdated design when a new and improved one is in the palm of our hands.

Derek Applewhite on 03/02/2015 at 14:10

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

The decision on which ships to purchase should be left open and not made until the Zumwalt class has had a chance to complete her sea trials and follow on testing of her new systems. Once (if) these trials are successful, given the projected cost difference, it would be prudent to purchase the more capable platform. As a nation, we could get more bang for our buck if these ships are kept in the fleet for a longer period of time than those of the Spruance class Destroyers, which should have been placed in the mothball fleet for ready reserves instead of being used for target practice during exercises as the Navy so carelessly decided to do to several of these ships. If there's been any waste of tax payer money, it was using these ships for Sink Exercises vice keeping them back in reserves in case needed.

Jeff Bohemier on 02/28/2015 at 05:19

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

Canceling this ship was a mistake.

Gregory Savage on 02/14/2015 at 20:09

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

Its my understanding that the Arleigh Burke Block III were supposed to be able to handle the SM6 ( an anti-air Balistic missile Defense role ) which the Zumwalt could not. I wondr aloud if the decision forthe DDG-51's was made so the Admirals could brag about hw many men they had under their command ?

John Scior on 01/28/2015 at 10:28

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

DDG Crew Size and Life Cycle Cost

In the article Mr. Ben Freeman reports, “…that the Defense Department estimates DDG-51 personnel cost at approximately $20 million per year/ship, compared to just $12 million for the DDG-1000’s crew, adjusting for inflation.” This translates to an average cost per crewmember of approximately $52,000 per year, a number that appears to represent only military pay and not the total cost of a sailor.
The DoD Reserve Policy Review Board in RFPB Report FY13-02 (ref below) reported that in FY 13, the fully burdened total cost to the US government for an active component military person is $384,622 per year. The RFPB report includes the total costs of pay, training and benefits. Based on the RFPB cost number, the personnel cost of a DDG 51 Flight IIA with a crew size of 380 (including aviation detachment is $146.1 million per year. The annual cost of a DDG 1000 with a crew size of 158 (including the aviation detachment) is $60.8 million, a difference of $85.3 million per year per ship. Over a 35 year ship life span, the reduced crew size for a DDG-1000 would result in a cost avoidance of $2.985 billion per ship.
______
Reserve Forces Policy Board, Final Report to the Secretary of Defense, Subject: Eliminating Major Gaps in DoD Data on the Fully-Burdened and Life-Cycle Cost of Military Personnel: Cost Elements Should be Mandated by Policy, (RFPB Report FY13-02) dated January 7, 2013. http://rfpb.defense.gov/Portals/67/Documents/RFPB_Cost_Methodology_Final_Report_7Jan13.pdf

Taxpayer71 on 12/15/2014 at 14:52

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

"In contrast, the DDG-51’s surface-to-air missiles cost $165,400 per shot."

Given that a DDG-51 can fire ESSM, SM-2 (with many different marks), and SM-6 I find this claim dubious to say the very best.

Additionally, with respect to power generation DDG-1000 has two 35 MW MT-30 GTG vs. the 3 Rolls-Royce 501-series found on DDG-51 (capable of 2.5-3 MW depending on the ship). Electrical grids however aren't usually meant to take all inputs at once (excepting an extreme emergency in which system burnout is a valid option), I'd like to see a citation from anywhere that suggests that DDG-1000 is any different.

Lastly, railguns while progressing face considerable technical hurdles. The proposed 64 MJ railgun requires capacitors and other equipment that frankly has never been done before. While game changing they are very far off, if they even come to fruition at all.

Phil on 12/12/2014 at 19:19

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

I agree, on one reason the cost soared was the order was reduced to just three vessels. Given the new and emerging threats, this destroyer seems like the perfect ship for the Navy. And just recently the Laser weapon system deployed in the Persisn Gulf proved its lethality. Couple that with a Zumwalt's power source, it'll be the Chinese who end up wasting money on costly missiles. And it'll allow Naval vessels to carry less in terms of defensive missiles and more long range strike weapons and aircraft.

This ship, allows the Navy to act offensively, as it's supposed to act.

John on 12/12/2014 at 16:00

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

The author states: “Unlike DDG-51s, DDG-1000s are equipped with a variety of new technologies that allow the ship to operate with a much smaller crew — roughly half that of the DDG-51s. Over the course of a 35-year service life this personnel difference could save taxpayers $280 million per ship, given that Defense Department estimates DDG-51 personnel cost at approximately $20 million per year/ship, compared to just $12 million for the DDG-1000’s crew, adjusting for inflation.” The “Defense Department” estimate of $20M per year per DDG 51 IIA translates to an average cost per crewmember of approximately $52,000 per year.
In contrast, the DoD Reserve Policy Review Board in RFPB Report FY13-02 reported that in FY 13, the fully burdened total cost to the US government for an active component military person is $384,622 per year. The total life cycle cost to the US government for an active component member is $10.3 million. (See footnote)
DDG 51 Flight IIA has a crew size of 380 (including aviation detachment). DDG 1000 has a crew size of 158 (including aviation detachment). This difference in crew size of 222 personnel translates to a cost avoidance of $83.4M per year per ship. Assuming a 35 year ship life, the reduced crew size of a DDG 1000 results in cost avoidance in military pay and benefits of $2.988 billion per ship.
Reserve Forces Policy Board, Final Report to the Secretary of Defense, Subject: Eliminating Major Gaps in DoD Data on the Fully-Burdened and Life-Cycle Cost of Military Personnel: Cost Elements Should be Mandated by Policy, (RFPB Report FY13-02) dated January 7, 2013.
http://rfpb.defense.gov/Portals/67/Documents/RFPB_Cost_Methodology_Final_Report_7Jan13.pdf

Taxpayer71 on 12/12/2014 at 14:49

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

Hopefully this decision doesn’t come back to haunt us as our adversaries deploy new systems that limit our permissive operating environments. And please – no “hope is not a strategy” retorts. On the brighter side, as our weapons technology advances, what remains of the DDG-1000 program should provide the needed lessons learned and serve as a technology bridge for the next generation destroyer or cruiser.

Eric Fiore on 12/12/2014 at 10:33

Re: Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was a Mistake

The best range of the DDG 1000's guns is 100nm. Other than a North Korea scenario, the ship will have still have to get within 30nm of land in order to maximize the range of its 155mm guns. At that range, land-based air and surface craft will easily detect her. The USN does not need 30 of these ships whilst waiting for the electromagnetic rail to reach IOC. If visually detected, DDG 1000 is no more "survivable" than DDG 51. The Navy made the right choice to truncate this program at 3 units.

Lazarus on 12/12/2014 at 10:04

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