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Navy's latest destroyer: Is it a ship or a test-bed?

As the Navy prepares to award a design contract in April for its next generation surface combatant, there are conflicting explanations for the program's rationale. The Navy says that the DD-X project will produce a new ship class. But some senior Defense officials insist in categorizing DD-X as only a "test-bed" for new technologies.

The Pentagon requested $960 million in fiscal year 2003 to start developing the DD-X family of ships, which is expected to include a new cruiser, called CG-X and a smaller vessel for coastal operations, called the LCS (littoral combat ship). Through fiscal 2007, the Navy would spend $5.7 billion to complete development and possibly build the first ship.

A senior Navy budget official who briefed reporters in early February, however, said that DD-X is a "test-bed" to explore new technologies and may or may nor lead to actual ship construction. "It's too early to tell what is going to happen," the official said.

Pentagon Comptroller Dov Zakheim said, during a news conference, that it's not clear whether any ships will be built under this program. "I don't know if [DD-X] will be deployed as a new class of ships," said Zakheim. He stressed that the Navy has yet to articulate specific requirements for a new class of surface combatants and that many of the decisions will be based on whether the Navy rakes over more missile-defense missions.

But several top Navy officials made it clear in recent remarks that they do not regard DD-X as only a test-bed. The director of Navy surface warfare, Rear Adm. Phillip M. Balisle, said that "DD-X is not a program simply to develop technology.... [It] will bring transformation to the fleet."

Rear Adm. Charles S. Hamilton, program executive officer for surface strike, explained that the DD-X program will fund a "lead ship" to be built in fiscal year 2005. That first ship would serve as the baseline, on which future upgrades would be incorporated. The idea is to make DD-X a "spiral development" program--a term used to describe the Defense Department's preferred approach to building weapon systems. Spiral development assumes that the design of a ship is flexible enough that it can be upgraded with new technologies over a long period of time.

The CG-X, said Hamilton, will be the next-generation cruiser for missile-defense missions. The LCS will perform, among other functions, mine- and submarine hunting duties.

The hullforms for DD-X and CG-X probably will be common, he said during a presentation to the Surface Navy Association. The ECS will have a different hullform, but similar mission-package technology, he added.

Zakheim, meanwhile, repeatedly emphasized that DD-X remains a technology program with no clearly defined ships. "I think they [the Navy] want a new class of destroyers, but I don't know what it's going to look like," he told reporters. In briefing charts, Zakheim listed DD-X as one of the "transformation highlights" of the fiscal 2003 budget.

But he warned that it's too early to begin designing a ship that will not be deployed for another 10 to 20 years, so it makes sense to use a new destroyer as a test bed" for new technologies. "The way we're going to fight surface warfare in the future is unlikely to be the way it's been fought until now," said Zakheim.

A delay in the production of a new destroyer would not necessarily undermine the Navy's goal of keeping a fleet of 300 ships, as long as the service continues to build DDG-51 destroyers, he said.

Some Navy officials seem eager to get DDX in the fleet as soon as possible. "We have to transition to DD-X's new hullform," which provides more stealth and safety for sailors, said Rear Adm. William Cobb Jr., program executive officer for theater surface combatants. "We can't continue to build DDGs" indefinitely, he told the SNA conference.

At the core of the debate surrounding DDX is the notion that the Pentagon will not fund a new ship-construction program unless the platform were viewed as "transformational." The term "transformation" has become a buzzword to describe innovative weapon systems and war-fighting tactics. The predecessor program to the DD-X--the DD-21 Zumwalt-class destroyer--was cancelled last year, because Pentagon officials considered it too expensive and not "transformational" enough, despite high-tech features such as electric propulsion, a stealthy hullform, advanced communications technology and a crew one-third smaller than current destroyers.

The DD-21 became a tough sell, concluded a naval analyst, because its reason for being was not articulated clearly. "It was not considered transformational, even though it had electric drive and low manning and cooperative engagement, because it lacked a transformation framework," said Ronald O'Rourke, an analyst at the Congressional Research Service. "It was difficult to see how this ship would change things." The same fate could await DD-X, unless the surface Navy community puts together "a strong plan for transformation," said O'Rourke. "The Navy does not have a coordinated cluster of new and different programs, like the Army does, nor does it have a clear transformation framework like the Air Force does."

O'Rourke's observation may suggest that the Navy was penalized in the 2003 spending plan, which shows increases of $2.2 billion and $5.1 billion for the Army and Air Force procurement accounts, respectively, but just $600 million for the Navy/Marine Corps.

There are times when "success can work against you," said the Pentagon's director of force transformation, retired Vice Adm. Arthur C. Cebrowski. During a roundtable with reporters, Cebrowski noted that the weapons acquisition process does not have much tolerance for failure or for taking financial risks in a program that may or may not succeed. Even though he did not specifically mention DD-21, Cebrowski said that some programs fail to show that "there is a market" for a given system and, therefore, lose the budget battles. "In the name of efficiency, we pick winners and losers early," he said.

The Navy's budgetary picture may improve in the years ahead, however. According to Rear Adm. James G. Stavridis, director of assessments, the service's 2004-2008 spending plan has $40-$50 billion "for new programs that are transformational."

The Navy's overall budget of $108.3 billion for fiscal 2003 is $9.5 billion higher than last year's, but nevertheless contains "serious cracks" in the shipbuilding accounts, which were "inherited" from the previous administration, said John Young, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.

The ships currently under construction, for example, are $3 billion short of the amount needed to complete them, Young said at the Surface Navy conference.

Given the financial crunch, the Navy had to cut back its shipbuilding program in 2003 from eight to five ships.

Zakheim predicted that the Navy's force structure will not suffer in the long term, despite the reductions. The reason, he said, is that the average age of the Navy's fleet is 16 years, "which is relatively young." Therefore, "The Navy felt that it could afford to build only five ships this year," Zakheim said. "There were other priorities, such as munitions, such as readiness that really needed funding more urgently."

RELATES ARTICLE: Navy Considering Hit-to-Kill Missile for Area Defense

Top Navy and Missile Defense Agency officials are debating whether a ship-based defensive system against aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles could be developed using existing hit-to-kill technology.

The study group was formed at the request of Undersecretary of Defense Edward 'Pete' Aldridge, who ordered the cancellation of the Navy Area Wide missile defense system last December. It was terminated, because it was more than 25 percent over budget and was plagued by "management problems," according to Aldridge.

The death of Navy Area Wide, however, does not imply that the service gave up its requirement to protect ships against airborne threats, officials said.

"The requirement is still there to defend from Scud-type missiles," said Rear Adm. William Cobb Jr., program executive officer for theater surface combatants. He told National Defense that the study group is looking at various options to replace Navy Area Wide. None of those options involves trying to resurrect the program, he said. "It's a clean-sheet approach."

The manufacturer of the Army's PAC-3 hit-to-kill missile, used in the most upgraded version of the Patriot air-defense system, submitted a proposal to the Missile Defense Agency, recommending that it consider the PAC-3 missile for Navy use as an anti-ballistic missile weapon. Lockheed Martin Corp. officials declined to discuss the proposal, but one company source said that the PAC-3 missile could be adapted for the Navy Area Wide system with only "minor modifications." The PAC3 missile is in low-rate production currently, and has a budget of $600 million for fiscal year 2003.

In a hit-to-kill system, the warhead must be able to score a direct stake on target missiles. The now-defunct Navy Area Wide planned to modify the Aegis combat system to extend its anti-air warfare capability, so it could detect track and engage tactical ballistic missiles. The plan was to upgrade the Standard Missile 2 Block VA-made by Raytheon-to make it more effective against shorter range TBMs.

The Lockheed source said the Navy should consider using the hit-to-kill missile, because "it works' PAC-3, additionally, has a sophisticated seeker, made by Boeing which would meet Navy requirements, said the source. "More importantly, it's paid for."

If the Navy were to incorporate PAC-3 into a ship-based system, it would most likely require two missiles: PAC-3 would be used against ballistic missile threats and the Standard Missile would be used to defeat aircraft and cruise missiles.

Rear Adm. Phillip M. Balisle, director of Navy surface warfare, said that the service does not necessarily care what missile goes on the ship. 'We just want the capability," said Balisle. "The war-fighting requirement [for Navy Area Wide] hasn't changed." Because of the cost overruns and delays experienced in Navy Area Wide, the Missile Defense Agency "will look at changes in acquisition, engineering, maybe designs," he said. 'We don't care if it's one or two missiles." Asked about the potential cost of a new program, he said, "We have no idea what the cost implications of the changes will be."

The Pentagon requested $200 million in fiscal year 2003 for terminal defense systems, which may include a replacement for Navy Area Wide.

The Raytheon Co. is hoping that the Navy will not abandon the Standard Missile 2 Block VA, and maintains that this weapon can perform all the functions the Navy wants. "Having two missiles for two distinct missions [is not] the optimal solution," said Raytheon spokesman Dave Shea. "Our position is that SM 2 Block VA can do all the missions."
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Author:Erwin, Sandra I.
Publication:National Defense
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2002
Words:1766
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