Navy Chooses Evolution Over Revolution for Shipbuilding
Vice Adm. William Galinis, Naval Sea Systems Command commander, points to the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer program as an example of how the service should acquire more ships.
“If you think about the DDG-51 class and how we have evolved that since the concept first came about back in the 1980s and where we are today … it really is kind of a model program,” he said at the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference.
The evolutionary type design versus the revolutionary approach has made it combat relevant throughout its life and continues to do so, he said.
Whether it is the current goal of a 355-ship Navy or the even higher 500-plus ship fleet proposed by Mark Esper in the waning days of his tenure as defense secretary, the Navy has a lot of vessels to build over the next couple of decades.
Facing an emerging Chinese navy that is christening new ships at a rate that alarms some experts, the U.S. Navy is feeling the pressure to keep up.
The new shipbuilding plan, which covers 2022 to 2051, was released in December and called for the fleet to grow to 316 manned battle force ships by fiscal year 2026. The service currently has just under 300 battle force ships.
Budget instability, acquisition snafus and capacity at its shipyards are among the possible roadblocks.
“We really have to get the next-generation warships delivered on time and without some of the first-class challenges that we’ve seen previously on some of our platforms,” Galinis said.
The DDG-51’s Flight III Combat System that is currently being developed shows that the risk in these programs shouldn’t be in the basic elements of the ships, but the subsystems that give them their “teeth,” he said.
“As we think about these newer designs, our high-end technical risk should really be the combat capability that you deliver and not so much the platform,” Galinis said.
Rigorous engineering in the design process and land-based testing has been key to the Flight III successes so far, he added.
The follow-on to the Littoral Combat Ship, the Constellation-class frigate, serves as another example of this evolutionary approach backed up by rigorous engineering before keels are laid. The light amphibious warship, next-generation destroyers, DDG(X), and the joint Coast Guard-Navy Polar Security Cutter program are other ships still in the early stages of development, he noted.
“The design approach is key to delivering the ships and … these new concepts and new programs that are coming down the way,” he added.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said: “In the future, we’re really going to have to team closely together to deliver platforms like the Constellation class and the new DDG(X) on time. ... We have to get them right. We cannot afford to have delays. We cannot afford to have big mistakes. We can’t afford to have cost overruns. We really have to deliver those on-time, on-budget and with the kind of capabilities that work.”
Rear Adm. Casey Moton, program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants, said the new frigate has a great foundation because of all the work that went into the program in the design phase.
Risk was reduced by using a mix of an existing “parent” design for the ship and non-developmental technologies for the subsystems.
“There was a lot of hard work with industry to mature those designs before we ever even put the ship on contract,” Moton said.
The Navy has been doing the functional design work on the frigate and has entered the detailed design phase that will be completed by the end of fiscal year 2021. Production begins in fiscal year 2022, he said. Fincantieri Marinette Marine is the lead contractor for the first three ships.
“Preparing for production is our focus,” Moton said.
Tom Rivers, executive director for amphibious, auxiliary and sealift in program executive office ships, said the new destroyers “are making tremendous progress, which will improve our lethality and warfighting capability for decades to come.”
Other efficiencies can be found through contract vehicles, Rivers said.
Landing platform dock ships 28 through 30 are under construction with LPD-31 now under contract.
The San Antonio-class ships provide the Navy and Marine Corps with sea-based platforms that can ferry troops from ship to shore with aircraft and landing craft. The PEO’s “economic order quantity strategy” leverages the authorities and the appropriations given to the Navy this year to maximize cost and schedule benefits, while also providing more stability and production efficiency to suppliers, he said.
That includes the workforce. Without highly skilled shipyard workers, these vessels can’t be delivered on schedule.
“We need to send to industry a common, steady demand signal so they can hire, they can train. They can’t invest without that. [Or] we can’t expect them to be ready when we have a demand,” Rivers said.
“That is one of our initiatives — to bring that stability to the workplace for at least the amphibious ship workforce. We’re trying to do the same type of strategy with other shipbuilding programs to bring that stability,” he added.
At the end of fiscal year 2020, the Navy had 45 ships at various stages of development, which will increase steadily throughout this year as the service awards more contracts, said Rivers.
“We’re focused on setting the right conditions with the industrial base, so that we’re executing to the plan and delivering ships on schedule,” he said.
Rivers’ office is also working closely with the requirements community to develop the light amphibious warship — also known as LAW.
Officials have described the vessel as somewhere between 200 to 400 feet long that can carry about 75 Marines and their equipment. It is a new concept and not replacing any legacy ships. Officials have not announced how many of the new amphibs they would like to procure.
The Navy plans to accelerate delivery of the landing craft by adapting commercial vessels and design standards, Rivers said.
These surface ships — along with an aggressive schedule to build new submarines — makes coordinating work at shipyards complex. The Navy has established a shipbuilding industrial base task force led by Matt Evans, which is specifically charged with helping to align ship and submarine construction, maintenance, and matching them with available resources, capability, and capacity requirements, Rivers said.
The Navy also appointed Tina Zimmer as its first futures director to provide expertise and oversight for concept design work, giving the requirements community a single authoritative resource for developing and transitioning with these programs, Rivers said.
“By doing this, we’re getting a better understanding of the crosscutting challenges across the industrial base, that in turn allows [us] to develop strategies and better promote the resiliency of the critical business space,” he said.
Gilday said: “Our public shipyards, our aviation depots, our global networks of bases are our readiness engines. They are long overdue for restoration and remain a focus of mine.”
While the Navy pursues a goal of sailing 355 ships, or possibly more, it must also make tough choices to subtract some platforms from the fleet, Gilday said.
“The composition of the fleet matters to us the most,” he said.
“Divestments will also be necessary to build back the naval power America needs. That includes the first experimental [Littoral Combat Ship] hulls, legacy cruisers, dock landing ships and transferring non-core Navy missions like Aegis Ashore [missile defense] to our ground forces.
Our sailors put years of exceptional service into these platforms, but pivoting to the future requires tough choices,” he said.
Gilday also said unmanned vessels will be a part of the shipbuilding mix.
“We need to pursue unmanned systems, pure and simple. They expand our [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] advantage. They add depth to our magazines and they can operate inside highly contested areas. They will provide affordable solutions to grow our Navy and to provide lethal combat fire,” he said.
As for the other hindrance to getting ships delivered on time — fiscal uncertainty coming from Congress or a change in administrations — that’s to be expected, he said.
“There will be fiscal uncertainties in the future. No doubt about that,” Gilday said. “There always is, but we have to have our priorities right. … We have to understand what we’re expected to contribute to the joint force and that’s sea control and power projection, and we can never lose sight of that.”