Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bring forth the Burke Swarm!

The USN announced Monday that the DDG-1000 program would be effectively killed at 2 vessels. The Navy has indicated that they are going to purchase an additional 9 or Burke class destroyers instead of the 5 other planned DDG-1000s.

Unfortunately, this is somewhat par for course for the USN's acquisition program the last 15 years or so, starting with the plan to ditch the "luxury" Seawolf SSNs in favor of the "economy" Virginia SSNs. That didn't work out as planned, with the "economy" Virginia ending up costing significantly more than the Seawolf.

Later on the USN decided that it needed a number of low-cost surface vessels for presence purposes. In the past a frigate class would take up this role, but since this is all about Transformation(tm) the "Littoral Combat Ship" was born. Unable to decide between 2 of the 3 competing designs(in other words, a lot of districts in each of them) a pair was ordered from each. Originally suppose to coast $200mil a hull, the costs ballooned to $400mil, due to shoddy workmanship, yard fires, and technology integration problems.

Which brings us to DDG-1000. Rather than some of the more "mundane" new tech in existing vessels, the USN opt to make everything from scratch on the DDG-1000s, starting with the hullform which was created due to a overriding requirement to minimalize radar cross section.

From there it got worse, with new radars, drive system, missile launch systems(that are poorly placed), gun systems, automation systems and comms gear all being integrated into a hull that is potentially very unsafe. Oh, and the automation brings with it a critically understaffed ship for watchstanding and damage control, not to count the normal "maintenance of the ship's material condition".

So, perhaps it'll ultimately be a Good Thing that the DDG-1000 will be nothing more than a "technology demonstrator", and I suspect the new Burkes might have some of the "easier" new tech installed a bit at a time. Hopefully whatever the follow-on for the DDG-1000 is doesn't turn out to be less capable and cost half again as much though.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

New Carriers for the RN!

Finally, after a decade since the "White Paper" determining the need was issued, the British Ministry of Defense has finally signed the contract for two new fleet carriers. These will be the first new capital ships built in decades for the RN, and greatly increase it's capability on the world stage.

Of course, there are still problems ahead, as Richard Beedall over at Navy Matters notes. Not the least the much delayed JSF, which may not be in service when the Queen Elizabeth is commissioned. No F-35s mean no airgroups, or, more specifically, a much reduced one(consisting of harrier jets).

Somewhat more alarming is the lack of escorts, which will be dramatically limited when the QE enters service. While a Daring class destroyer will be significantly more capable than it's predecessor's, the numbers of hulls are sometimes just as important as the capabilities of the hulls. The USAF has discovered this with the C-17 airlifters, and the USN is attempt to rectify the problem with the "low tech" LCS program, which has not been a very successful program.

The final bit is fuel costs. During WW2 Nazi capital ships stayed in port quite a bit do to the drain of fuel a sortie would have created. Today fuel costs are one of the biggest line-item expenses militaries face. So much so that Congress has mandated that the next USN CG be nuclear powered. In theory, the USN will be able to do much more with it's CVNs and possible CGNs, while the RN carriers may end up being in port for long periods of time, with competency suffering.