Photo: US Navy
Sep 12, 2011 By Michael Fabey aerospace daily and defense report
Congressional investigators at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) are scrutinizing the U.S. Navy’s decision to restart production of DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, a GAO official confirms.
GAO is trying to determine the underlying basis for the Navy decision to select DDG-51 as the “best hull form to meet future surface combatant requirements” Belva Martin, GAO director of acquisition and sourcing management for a variety of programs, including Navy ships, tells Aviation Week.
GAO’s acknowledgment of the investigation comes in the wake of recent Aviation Week news articles and analysis about the impact of the restart decision and updated Navy plans for the Arleigh Burke and DDG-1000 Zumwalt destroyer—the ship-class type whose fleet was truncated to accommodate the additional DDG-51s (Aerospace DAILY, June 28, Aug. 1).
In the beginning and middle of the previous decade, the Navy had been on course to phase out the Arleigh Burkes and build the Zumwalts. The DDG-1000s were to include a raft of Navy-desired technologies including a hybrid-drive propulsion, a composite deckhouse and a Dual-Band Radar that would be a stepping stone for the service’s Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR). The DDG-1000s also were designed to incorporate significantly enhanced coastal firepower, for which the U.S. Marine Corps has been clamoring.
The ship appeared to meet all of the requirements that the Navy had established for a new destroyer going back to the 1990s, and the service planned to buy dozens of the new vessels to replace its aging DDG-51 fleet, based on a design going back to the late 1970s. But as the research and development funding mounted—it would wind up being about half of the ship’s $20 billion total program acquisition bill by this year, according to Navy and government reports—opponents began to question whether all the technology would be worth the price.
Still, the program remained on cost and schedule—until the latter half of the last decade when the Navy brass abruptly changed course, truncating the Zumwalt buy to three ships and restarting Arleigh Burke production with an eye toward a redesigned Flight III DDG-51 to accommodate, among other things, AMDR. Indeed, Navy officials say the main impetus behind the destroyer acquisition change was the growing mission need for AMDR and ballistic missile defense (BMD). Citing a “hull-radar” study, the Navy brass said the Aegis defense system-equipped DDG-51s offered the most affordable and quickest way to get BMD-capable ships into the fleet. Zumwalts, they said, would not be able to accommodate the standard missiles used for BMD.
But Navy and industry sources familiar with the hull-radar study say it was narrowly focused and molded to support a Navy preference for Aegis-equipped Burkes. Further, Navy and industry documents and sources say the launching equipment on the Zumwalts can be tweaked relatively easily to accommodate any standard missile. Further, the Zumwalt was designed to support new technological developments for BMD and other missions, while the older DDG-51 design does not.
Navy officials say they want the DDG-51s to be redesigned for technology improvements, but there are no cost projections. As a production model ship, the Zumwalt now will cost about $3 billion and a Flight III DDG-51 less than two-thirds that amount; but analysts expect the DDG-51 projection to grow significantly, especially with the desired technology accommodations.
GAO’s probe will focus on the cost, schedule and other related issues associated with the restart program, Martin says. The report, expected in January, also will examine the DDG-51’s projected ability to integrate new technology, she says, especially AMDR.
A Navy spokesman declined to comment on any GAO investigation, but said Navy comments would be included in the GAO’s report.