New Combatant Reinforces Navy Role in Land Warfare

By Sandra I. Erwin

The Navy will invest $25 billion in a new class of surface combatants to bolster its clout at sea and, more importantly, to extend its dominance on land.

Using naval forces for land attack can be accomplished today via aircraft carriers. But that involves risking pilots flying over the battle zone. The solution, say U.S. military planners, is to have a ship with long-range firepower that can do the job without sending aviators into harm's way.

The ability to hit targets from over the horizon also means that commanders can keep their ships safe from coastal mines and enemy anti-ship missiles-the weapons of choice for potential U.S. foes.

In about 10 years, the DD-21 class of surface combatants will begin replacing the Navy's fleet of DD-963 destroyers and FFG-7 guided-missile frigates. The plan is to buy 32 ships.

The Navy's land attack role as part of a U.S. joint force is increasingly gaining popularity at the Pentagon because it suits the U.S. strategy of fighting wars without unduly risking lives. A case in point is the use of Tomahawk cruise missiles during recent military contingencies.

The Marine Corps, for example, has become an enthusiast of DD-21 for obvious reasons. The ship complements the corps' other expeditionary platforms for the 21st century-the advanced amphibious assault vehicle, the V-22 tiltrotor aircraft, and the improved landing craft air cushion transport.

In addition to seeking range and speed in its platforms, Marine forces want the fire support DD-21 will possess. Future wars in littoral regions will make it particularly dangerous for Marine amphibious ships to get too close to the shore, experts say. The long-range precision strike capabilities of DD-21, they predict, will protect forces by establishing "battlefield dominance" against air, surface, and subsurface threats.

Amphibious Forces
U.S. amphibious forces have been involved in 50 crises around the globe during the past decade. This hectic pace is not expected to slow, say Marine Corps officials. So they want DD-21 because it can "influence events ashore," says Maj. Gen. Dennis Krupp, Marine Corps director of expeditionary warfare. During the next century, "if a force is not capable of expeditionary warfare it will be unemployed," he says during a recent conference in Panama City, Florida, sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association.

Marines want to keep their large amphibious ships over the horizon and DD-21 will allow them to do that, which makes it a "force multiplier," says Slade.

Among the planned innovations for DD-21 are integrated gas turbine/electric propulsion, vertical advanced gun system, a stealth design, a robust C4I capability with open computer systems, and remote weapons launching. It will also feature advanced undersea warfare and mine countermeasures systems, says Capt. Ray Pilcher, Navy director of land attack warfare, who briefed the NDIA conference.

He explains DD-21 will operate seamlessly with forward-deployed joint forces via a "sensor-to-shooter" connectivity. This would give the commander flexibility to both counter maritime threats and destroy land targets.

DD-21 could be armed with as many as 250 short and long-range missiles. That compares to 122 missiles in the current Ticonderoga-class CG-47 cruisers.

Industry Design
Unlike previous generations of Navy warships, DD-21 will be designed entirely by contractors teamed with Navy researchers. This makes DD-21 a "showcase for acquisition reform," according to the program manager, Navy Capt. Tom Bush. The project will involve a two-team industry competition for the ship's design. Once a winner is selected, the construction will be shared by the two shipyards from each team. This approach is necessary, say Navy officials, because they do not want to risk the losing shipyard going out of business.

The Navy awarded a combined $68.5 million contract to the two teams-one led by General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine; and the other by Ingalls Shipbuilding, Pascagoula, Mississippi. They will split the funding in equal shares.

Bath Iron Works partnered with Lockheed Martin Government Electronic Systems, Mooretown, New Jersey, to form the Blue Team. The competing Gold Team has Ingalls along with Raytheon Systems Company, Falls Church, Virginia.

Each one is responsible for developing an independent ship design and life cycle support concept for the DD-21 system. The Navy will select the winning design by the spring of 2001. The first ship of the class is expected to join the fleet in 2008.

But even though the Navy is allowing the contractor to design DD-21 from a clean sheet, it has imposed a $750 million per ship cost cap. That would apply to the fifth ship of the 32-vessel series.

DD-21's price tag makes it an attractive proposition in the context of declining spending on new platforms by the Defense Department. By comparison, the advanced DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers cost about $1 billion.

But experts are skeptical that a ship as advanced as DD-21 can be built within that cost constraint. The $750 million threshold is indeed "ambitious," says Richard Scott, naval editor of Jane's Defence Weekly, based in the United Kingdom.

Another significant cost driver would be the integration of the Aegis combat system into DD-21, which is not part of the official requirements for the ship.

Slade predicts there's a 50/50 chance that the Navy will opt to make Aegis part of DD-21.

A Navy spokesman says the $750 million price tag includes the cost of a combat system, not specifically an Aegis combat system.

The service did not request that the Aegis combat system be placed on DD-21, nor did it request any specific weapons system be included on the ship. Rather, the industry teams will determine which systems best meet cost and performance requirements, says the spokesman. "Each team has been given the maximum trade-space to develop total system concept designs" based on the operational needs.

Early Design
"Each team will look at the Aegis to see if it's applicable to the DD-21 mission," says Paul Lemmo, business development manager at Lockheed Martin Government Electronic Systems. Both cost and mission considerations will play a role, he says in an interview.

While the Aegis was primarily designed for anti-air warfare, the DD-21 is more focused on land attack. The question that must be asked, says Lemmo, is "do we need that much functionality?"

The Ingalls-Raytheon team does not immediately plan to address the Aegis question. "We will not get into that until the end of phase 2 [in early 2001]," says Chic McDaniel, DD-21 business development manager for Raytheon.

The Navy, says McDaniel in an interview, "made it clear it does not want to be burdened" by legacy systems with unique hardware configurations. He does not, however, rule out the possibility that Aegis will be part of DD-21. "Aegis has evolved and matured," he says.

Slade says he has seen some preliminary sketches from the shipyards, and some are "quite radical." But he predicts that, as it often happens when new ships begin the design cycle, "they will eventually be toned down, diluted to a more conventional ship."

Even though both shipyards will share the construction work, there are coveted rewards for the winner of the design competition.

"The winner will probably get the added value sections while the loser will do the bulk of the metal bending," says Slade. But there is also a morale factor. Whoever wins will have the bragging rights.

"We have a clean sheet, " says Lemmo. "The design is entirely up to industry."

Raytheon's McDaniel points out that even though both Ingalls and Bath Iron Works will share the construction work, the selected team will spend at least five years working on the ship's design. Subsequently, the shipyards will determine how they will split the project. The plan is to build about three ships a year.

Most of the cost-savings the Navy expects from DD-21 come from the ship's small crew. That is because manpower eats up the largest share of the cost of operating a ship.

DD-21 has a requirement for a crew of 95 sailors. Current cruisers have 330. While it costs $9,000 an hour to operate an Aegis destroyer, the Navy asked industry to slash that expense by two-thirds. The service would like DD-21 to cost about $2,700 an hour, says McDaniel.

The manning cutbacks sought by the Navy are a "significant challenge," he says.

Scott, from Jane's Defence, asserts this goal is "extremely ambitious." He is skeptical that crew size can be sustained in a combat situation when the ship may incur battle damage.

He believes the Navy had to drastically cut back on crew size demands for future ships because there's a perception among the world's naval powers that U.S. ships are "overmanned."

One of those naval powers, the United Kingdom, is closely watching what the U.S. Navy is doing with DD-21, says Scott. The United States, he adds, is clearly "leading the way." And there is growing concern among NATO navies, particularly, that "you have to have standoff capability."

Topics: Navy News, Land Forces

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