3D Modeling Could Speed Procurement of Navy Destroyer
As the Navy prepares to award a production contract for its new Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer this year, service officials are touting advanced 3D manufacturing and design techniques as a way to cut cost and time for its major shipbuilding programs.
The day after the service released a final request for proposals for the DDG-51 Flight III program — which includes a redesign of the current Flight IIA configuration to fit an upgraded radar capability onto the ship — Navy Assistant Secretary for Research, Development and Acquisition James “Hondo” Geurts said the increased use of digital technologies in the R&D phase could help move the program’s production timeline to the left.
“You’re starting to see the era of digital come,” he said in a keynote speech at a recent industry conference in San Diego. Geurts, who assumed his new role in late 2017, said augmented reality and 3D digital modeling technologies could encourage speed and efficiency at the development stage for major shipbuilding programs.
The service has seen “huge savings” for the construction of the second Ford-class aircraft carrier thanks to these advanced design techniques, and could see similar gains as it moves forward with the DDG-51 Flight III program, he told reporters after his speech.
“We have got to figure out how to get these kinds of technologies in so we can drive out the cost of these megaprojects,” he said.
The transition to the Flight III iteration is the Navy’s program executive office for ships’ No. 1 priority, said office chief Rear Adm. Bill Galinis at a recent industry conference in Washington, D.C.
“We’re very pleased with where we are,” he said. The first two Flight III contracts are now in place, with Huntington Ingalls Industries set to build DDG-125 and General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works building DDG-126.
As the Navy prepares for a multi-year program to include 10 ships between fiscal years 2018 to 2022, “the team is just making tremendous progress on the DDG 51 program,” Galinis added.
The Arleigh Burke-class program was initiated in the early 1970s to build multi-mission destroyers with an emphasis on air defense and mid-ocean operations, according to a December 2017 report by the Congressional Research Service. These destroyers, equipped with Lockheed Martin’s Aegis combat system, first entered service in 1991. The ships are built by Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, and Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
The design has been modified over time, with the Navy shifting from the initial Flight I/II variants to the Flight IIA design in 1994, according to the report. The service planned to shift to the new Flight III design in fiscal year 2017 to incorporate the new air and missile defense radar. It requested congressional approval in its proposed 2018 budget to use a multi-year procurement contract to buy 10 new ships between 2018 and 2022.
The Navy is also implementing a program to modernize all of its DDG-51s in order to maintain their mission and cost effectiveness throughout their projected service lives, the report said. Sixty-five ships have been delivered to the fleet, encompassing DDG-51 to DDG-115. An additional 12 ships are under contract with Huntington Ingalls and Bath Iron Works; of those 12, eight are currently under construction, according to Navy documents.
The service’s fiscal year 2018 budget request included nearly $3.5 billion in funding for the procurement of two Flight III variants. Both DDG-125 and DDG-126 were awarded in 2017, and are expected to be delivered in April 2023 and June 2024, respectively. Bath Iron Works also won a contract for DDG-127, which will have a Flight IIA configuration.
The service’s fiscal year 2019 budget request includes $5.6 billion in procurement funding for three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, which would be built in the new Flight III variant and take part in the 10-ship multi-year procurement. The request also allocates nearly $392 million in advanced procurement dollars.
The Navy released the final request for proposals for Flight III in February, in a limited competition between Bath Iron Works and Huntington Ingalls. Both companies had to submit a 3D design model for the new ship by last December, according to reports. An award decision could come by June, according to service budget documents.
The Flight III program will add a new, more powerful radar — Raytheon’s AN/SPY-6(V) air and missile defense radar, or AMDR — to the DDG-51’s arsenal, requiring a significant redesign of the ship, said Bryan McGrath, deputy director at the Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower in Washington, D.C. The change stems from the Navy’s need for upgraded capability to face new global threats, he added.
“The plain truth is that the Aegis cruisers and then the Aegis destroyers that carry the [current] SPY-1 family of radar served the nation exceptionally well for a long time, but … the threat evolved in a way that outstripped the capability of that radar,” he said.
McGrath noted that much of the SPY-6’s characteristics are classified, “but it just goes without saying that it is a far better radar that can see smaller things at greater distances with greater discrimination.”
That increased capability will require more power and cooling, he said, “There are not insignificant changes from the last Flight II Alpha DDG to the first Flight III DDG” hulls, he noted.
Flight IIA ships — which he had experience commanding while in the Navy — were “wonderful ships. But this kind of a radar … could not be accommodated without some redesign,” he added.
The Navy in 2017 awarded Raytheon a $327 million fixed-price incentive contract modification option to produce the first three low-rate initial production AMDR units, said Scott Spence, company director of naval radar systems in an email. The contract also includes non-recurring engineering efforts in support of production.
Three SPY-6 dedicated flight test events occurred in 2017, and system-level testing continues at the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii. The radar remains on schedule for first system delivery in 2019 to Huntington Ingalls Industries, according to Raytheon.
The Flight IIA ships will fill the gap until the new radar is ready and the Navy selects a new Flight III design, McGrath said. “The Flight II Alphas remain the most sophisticated warships on the face of the Earth. But they are and will be challenged to handle the threats as they are evolving.”
As the Navy and other U.S. services are making efforts to speed up the timeline on major procurement programs, using more advanced design methods could help the service push past some of its worst practices when it comes to shipbuilding, McGrath said.
“One of the problems that the Navy has is that it sometimes starts building ships before the design is finished,” he said. “This is not, in my view, a positive thing, but there is enough confidence often that the design will catch up and we’ll finish the design as we go.”
Issues then arise once design moves into construction, he added. “Those problems extend the time for construction, extend the cost of the hull, all of those things.”
Galinis noted that modeling techniques have been used to reduce risk as the Navy moves to further integrate the new radar into the ship’s combat systems. His office has been working with the program executive office for integrated warfare systems to get the radar developed and integrated onto the ship in a timely manner, he added. He called the air and missile defense system “a game-changing capability once we get it out to the fleet.”
He noted that the service sometimes waits to test components until they are integrated onto the actual ship, but for this program, efforts are being made to test hardware components and integrate them with software at a shore site first to reduce risk.
Geurts said the Navy had “a mature Flight III design now, which is going to give us great increases in lethality on those ships.
“Now we’re looking to the shipbuilders, [and] looking at how they can build those ships as effectively and quickly as possible,” he added.
The augmented reality and 3D modeling techniques that Geurts lauded are part of “a whole series of more sophisticated ship design techniques that can … help [the Navy] create a mature design before we start to bend metal,” McGrath said.
Bill Glenn, a spokesman for Huntington Ingalls, confirmed in an email that the shipbuilder is using 3D design and modeling techniques for DDG-125 and future Flight III ships, but said because of the current RFP on future ships, the company will not comment further on the design efforts of this platform. Bath Iron Works declined to comment for this story.
Both companies have a stake in winning the multi-year contract, McGrath said. The CRS report noted that Navy surface combatant construction has accounted for virtually all of Bath Iron Works’ contracts in recent years, and a significant share of Ingalls’ work.
“I think it is absolutely critical for Bath to get some number of ships out of this procurement,” McGrath noted. “HII has a little bit more of a diverse line of ships that it builds, but I think both corporations believe that this is a must-win.”
It’s likely that both will build ships, though how the work is divided may depend on cost, he added.
“If one is considerably more expensive than the other, then the Navy might make a more radical decision,” he said. “But ships cost what ships cost, and … these shipyards are likely to come up with an estimate that is very close to each other.”
-Additional reporting by Connie Lee