Photo: US Navy
Aug 31, 2011 By Michael Fabey Aviationweek.com
With U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ recent acknowledgment that the service has a mind to refit its older DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyers with hybrid-drive technology as well as design the new Flight III ships with similar propulsions systems, the Navy should take the advice of many defense analysts and do a true analysis of alternatives (AOA) to determine the best course to take for the future fleet.
Analysts have lamented that the Navy has never done a true AOA for destroyers and cruisers to find the best ship fit – upgraded DDG-51s, downgraded DDG-1000 Zumwalts or CG(X), or even something brand new. That criticism came before the Navy talked about retrofitting old Arleigh Burkes and outfitting new ones with costly hybrid drives.
“Although the first Flight III ship would not be procured under Navy plans until [fiscal] 2016, the Navy plans to begin preliminary design work on the Flight III DDG-51 in FY2012,” the Congressional Research Service (CRS) notes in its latest update dated July 27. “An alternative to the Flight III DDG-51 that Congress may wish to consider would be a new-design destroyer that would be more capable in certain respects than the Flight III DDG-51, but more affordable than the CG(X). If development of a new-design destroyer were begun in [fiscal] 2012, the first ship might be ready for procurement as early as [fiscal] 2018.”
The Navy’s proposal to cancel the CG(X) and instead procure Flight III DDG-51s, CRS notes, does leverage “substantial analytical work” from the CG(X) AOA, additional Navy studies that were done to support the 2008-2009 proposal to end DDG-1000 procurement and restart DDG-51 procurement, and the 2009 Navy destroyer hull/radar study that examined options for improving the air defense and ballistic missile defense (BMD) capabilities of the DDG-51 and DDG-1000 destroyer designs through the installation of an improved radar and combat system modifications.
But the CRS report points out that some destroyer and cruiser program skeptics argue, “The CG(X) AOA focused mainly on examining radar and hull-design options for a cruiser with a large and powerful version of the AMDR (Air and Missile Defense Radar), rather than radar- and hull-design options for a smaller destroyer with a smaller and less powerful version of the AMDR.”
Further, CRS cites skeptics’ concerns that, “The Navy’s 2009 destroyer hull/radar study was focused on answering a somewhat narrowly defined question: what would be the lowest-cost option for improving the AAW [anti-air warfare] and BMD performance of a DDG-51 or DDG-1000 by a certain amount through the installation of an improved radar and an associated modified combat system? An adequate analytical basis for a proposed program change of this magnitude would require an AOA or equivalent study that rigorously examined a broader question: given projected Navy roles and missions, and projected Navy and DOD capabilities to be provided by other programs, what characteristics of all kinds (not just AAW and BMD capability) are needed in surface combatants in coming years, and what is the most cost-effective acquisition strategy to provide such ships?”
These are questions a true AOA would answer.