03 May 2006

DD(X) Cut Short?

Via Defense Tech:

A House subcommittee has passed legislation to limit the DD(X) destroyer program "to just two ships," . . . . The plan to halt the DD(X) buy at two would leave the Navy with a pair of ships that would serve mainly as demonstration models for a new generation of guided missile cruisers that would be built using the same hull.

Plan A was to build 30 for $1 billion each. Now costs have ballooned to as much as $4 billion a piece.

Meanwhile, the strategic justification for a next generation destroyer has deteriorated. The main things that distinguishs the DD(X) from existing Arleigh Burke class destroyers (which the U.S. is still building, despite the fact that we have the largest conventional surface Navy in the world), are the DD(X)'s proposed small crew, the DD(X)'s low radar signature hull, and its advanced gun system, a high rate of fire 6" naval gun, which is supposed to have more long distance accuracy than existing naval guns of that size. Cost has destroyed the virtues of two of those benefits, and the number of surface combatants that the Navy can afford to operate independently so that they can benefit from stealth is limited.

Th advanced gun system in particular was sold as a way of providing over the horizon fire support for Marines in amphibious invasions lost when battleships were retired, since a 6" gun still isn't very useful for ship to ship combat. Cruise missiles, submarines and aircraft have long ago superceded any kind of naval gun, even the advanced gun system, in dealing with opposing warships. The edge that artillery and naval guns have an edge over more sophisticated weapons is that the rounds that they use are cheap, allowing them to be used indiscriminately whenever they are needed. But, this cost advantage withers when you need a $4 billion ship to launch the rounds, and the rounds themselves, as they focus has turned to greater accuracy and the expensive guidance systems that go with them, have grown more and more expensive, to the point where the $40,000ish cost is firmly in the middle between an ordinary naval gun or artillery round or dumb bomb (a couple of thousand dollars each) to a cruise missle (three quarteers of a million dollars each). The $2 billion or so of additional purchase cost associated with a DD(X) v. an existing model destroyer, would buy about 2,600 cruise missiles, a number that, when multipled by the original planned buy of 30 ships, probably rivals the total number of naval gun rounds fired in anger since World War II.

Similarly, the immense cost overruns per ship on the DD(X) have also considerably dimmed the gleam of cost savings associated with its projected relatively small crew, despite the fact that these will be the largest surface combatants in the U.S. fleet. Reducing crew only matters if the reduced operating costs aren't outweighed by increased purchase costs, or if the ship is sunk by opposing forces and fewer people die. But, unlike the Littoral Combat Ship, the DD(X) is not built on the assumption that a certain percentage will probably be lost as an expendable cost in any major combat operation.

The relatively small radar signature of the DD(X) (the first of which will be the USS Zumwalt), of course, would still be useful. But, only when the DD(X) acts independently from conventional ships. The vast majority of U.S. destroyers and cruisers are used almost exclusively in an escort role, guarding U.S. aircraft carriers or amphibious assault ships (basically mini-aircraft carriers). In that role, stealth is considerably less useful. You can't surprise someone when you have a 98,000 ton aircraft carrier, a massive logistics ship, and half a dozen conventional destroyers, cruisers and/or frigates floating around, even if your particular ship is hard to spot.

Given the analysis above, I sincerely hope that Congress will have the guts to kill the DD(X) (either now, or after the elections with some new faces on board). Moving onto the CG(X) which has a very different and potentially more useful mission that would justify a high cost (it is the only part of the missile defense program with any real record of success in the early testing phase), makes a great deal of sense.

1 comment:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Confirmation here.

"Costs for DD(X) have reached low earth orbit with price estimates climbing past $7 billion per ship, versus the original $700 million per ship estimate from the late 1990s. Thus, on April 27, 2006, Congress abruptly voted unanimously to change the DD(X) program to that of a two ship "technology demonstrator " Thirty ships had been planned, later dropped to twelve. Now this. The proposed 2007 total defense budget submitted by the president is $439.3 billion. In another sign that Congress is becoming increasingly concerned about the cost of new systems in a time of non-traditional warfare, at the same time it cut DD(X) it added $3.2B for two additional Littoral Combat Ships and one more Virginia-class nuclear attack sub. It also mandated a minimum submarine force of 48 boats, up from the estimate of just 40 made by the Navy if funding cuts continued through 2028. The Navy currently has 54 combat subs."