Last week, the United States Navy revealed plans for its next generation DDG(X) warship, which could be armed with hypersonic missiles and lasers that are at least 10 times more powerful than the service’s current generation of energy-based weapons. The first in the new class of warship, which would replace the current Ticonderoga-class Aegis cruisers and older Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, would be procured in the fiscal year 2028 (FY28) budget.

The Navy has already proposed a fiscal year 2022 (FY22) budget request of $121.8 million research and development (R&D) funding for the program.

“Capabilities that we’re going to need for the 21st century to continue combating the threat are increased missile capability sensor growth, directed energy weapons, which actually require a lot of power, increased survivability and increased power availability,” deputy program manager Katherine Connelly said at last Wednesday’s briefing at the Surface Navy Association symposium.

It would also be the largest U.S. Navy warship attempted in more than 20 years, and it would be developed to provide the service with the power to drive a new generation of directed energy weapons and high-power sensors that will follow the Navy’s current Arleigh-Burke-class, USNI News first reported. The service has developed the DDG(X) from combat systems first employed with the Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers that incorporated the SPY-6 air search radar and Baseline 10 Aegis combat system.

“In order to understand DDG(X) and the need for it, you really need to talk about the large surface combatant as a whole,” Connelly added. “Flight III is going to be in the fleet through the [2060s]. So, the threat is going to continue to evolve. And there will be new threats out there. We on the Navy side will continue to evolve our combat and other capabilities to deter the threat. And we will need a platform that can accommodate those new technologies.”

A Future Warship “Do-Over”

Earlier this month, the USS Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1001), the third and final Zumwalt-class destroyer, entered service. Originally, 32 vessels were planned – with the $9.6 billion research and development (R&D) costs spread across the whole of the class – but the program was scaled back to 24 warships. It was further cut back to seven and finally just three Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyers were produced for the U.S. Navy, bringing the price tag per ship to $7.5 billion including the R&D costs. As a result, the Navy reverted to building more of the proven Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

As conceived, the Zumwalt-class was to be the largest and most technologically sophisticated destroyers ever built. At 610 feet long, about 81 feet wide, and displacing about 15,761 tons, the destroyers were larger than the Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class. Despite its increased size, the sleek, wave-piercing tumblehome design of Zumwalt-class destroyers was meant to make it appear smaller on radar, while its electronic propulsion system enabled it to reach top speeds in excess of 30 knots. In addition, the warships were designed to operate with a crew of just 158 sailors, about half of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

Where the problems began is that the Zumwalt-class was initially designed with a focus on land attacks, while it could take on secondary roles including surface and anti-aircraft warfare. It was also developed to be capable of performing a range of deterrence, power projection, sea control and command and control missions – while it could operate in both the open ocean and near-shore environments.

The biggest issue was how the new class of warships was actually expected to accomplish the primary mission of land attacks. As a new generation of warships, the Zumwalt-class was designed to be fitted with two 155mm Advanced Gun Systems (AGS), which are capable of engaging targets with precision-guided shells at a range of up to 60 miles.

While there has been talk to equip the Zumwalt-class with hypersonic weapons, it seems the Navy is taking the better course of starting with a clean slate with the DDG(X).

Advanced Destroyer

The new class will still employ some of the technology developed for the Zumwalt, however, notably the Integrated Power Systems, which are seen to be a marked improvement over the traditional gas-turbine propulsion systems found on other warships. It can generate more than 75 megawatts of power, enough to light a small town, but also crucial for the directed energy weapons and new systems the ships will employ. That could include 600-kilowatt lasers that would be powerful enough to interdict hostile guide missiles.

The Navy has called for the DDG(X) to have a range that is at least 50% greater than the Arleigh Burke-class, and be able to spend 120 times longer time on station. And while the Arleigh Burke-class was designed to primarily operate in the tropics, the DDG(X) would also be required to operate in extreme Arctic conditions as well.

The future warships are to be developed around a modular design that can allow for the hull to be expanded as new weapons grow. One issue with the Zumwalt-class is that despite it being modular, there hasn’t really been the ability to adapt the platform to meet the geo-political challenges. Even the newer Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have been presented with similar challenges.

“When we upgraded the Flight III … we took up all of the service life allowance on that platform. All of the space, weight and power has all been allocated. There is not enough room on that ship to put a new combat capability that takes more power or a larger footprint within the ship,” noted Connelly. “The first ship will focus on a new hull form and a new integrated power system. We will use the proven combat system from the Flight III ship so we are designing the ship with the flexibility and the margins to accommodate the future of the Navy and the needs for where we’re going.”

Clean Slate for the Next Warship

The exact shape and size of the DDG(X) has yet to be formalized. A Congressional Research Service report from last week showed a proposed rendering, which suggested a less “futuristic” design – at least compared to the Zumwalt-class’s wave-piercing tumblehome design – and one that was more reminiscent of the Arleigh Burke-class.

“We haven’t actually locked down the hull form, yet. That’s a concept,” Connelly added. “It is one of the many options still in play. … We as the design team, are going through all the different options to see which one performs best for the long-term and the mission.”

USNI News reported that while the size of the ship and estimated cost for the program haven’t been announced, a new warship program could run more than one billion dollars per hull, given the cost to construct a new Arleigh Burke and the developmental costs of the Constellation-class frigate (FFG-62).

Moreover, the Navy hasn’t specified how many DDG(X)s it would actually seek procure. The Congressional Research Service report stated that by procuring 11 would provide one for each of the Navy’s 11 aircraft carriers, while a procurement of 22 would provide one-for-one replacements for the 22 CG-47s. However, procuring additional DDG(X)s to replace older DDG-51s would result in a larger total procurement quantity.

 

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at petersuciu@gmail.com.