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Surface Forces: Buying Better Burkes
   Next Article → COUNTER-TERRORISM: Epic Fail In The Straits Of Hormuz
August 14, 2010: The U.S. Navy is upgrading eleven of its 62 Burke (DDG-51) class destroyers, at a cost of $34 million each. This is one of many upgrades that will be undertaken for many of the fleet's older destroyers and cruisers. Most of the work will upgrade or replace electrical or electronic components. But there will also be work on mechanical and structural components.

All this is a result of new ships being too expensive, and older ships being too effective. This is nothing new. Sometimes a weapon comes along that is too damn useful to replace. One outstanding example is the Sidewinder air-to-air missile. Another is the M-16 (5.56mm) rifle. Both have been around for over half a century, and no one can come up with a clearly superior replacement. Same thing is happening in the U.S. Navy, where attempts to replace the Arleigh Burke class destroyers have met with failure.

The navy put much effort into developing a successor for the Burke. But, in the end, the navy could only justify building, at most, three of the new DDG-1000 class ships. Instead, they resumed building Arleigh Burke class destroyers. It's a matter of cost, and effectiveness. The new DDG-1000 destroyers (and slightly larger versions designated as cruisers) would cost more than $4 billion each if built in large quantities. The Burkes cost a billion dollars each. The last of Burkes was ordered in 2002 and are under construction. But new orders are now planned, to be built over the next decade.

Meanwhile, the navy will buy some time (about a decade) by upgrading dozens of existing destroyers and cruisers. This is a bitter pill to swallow, as only a decade ago, the navy was so sure about the new DDG-1000, that it accelerated the retirement of a dozen of the 31 Spruance class destroyers, in order to save the $28 million a year it cost to keep each of them in service. These ships were not just retired, they were all either broken up, or sunk in training exercises. The dozen that entered service between 1979-83 could have been refurbished and been available until 2019. That was a lost opportunity. But what can now be done is refurb the Burke class destroyers (which began entering service in the 1990s). Most of the Ticonderoga class cruisers (which entered service in the 1980s and 90s) can use the refurb as well, which could boost their service into the 2030s. This, plus building a dozen or more Burke class destroyers.

The refurb policy will ultimately cost about $200 million per destroyer (and 20-25 percent more for the cruisers). Normally, these ships get one refurb during their 30 year lives. This not only fixes lots of things that have broken down or worn out (and been patched up), but installs lots of new technology. A second refurb is expected to add another 5-10 years of serviceability. But this special refurb will do more than that. The navy wants to add some of the DDG-1000 technology to these older ships. In particular, the navy wants to install the "smart ship" type automation (found in civilian ships for decades) that will enable crew size to be reduced. The "smart ship" gear also includes better networking and power distribution. In effect, the ship would be rewired. This could reduce the crew size by 20-30 percent (current destroyers have a crew of 275). In addition to considerable cost savings (over $100,000 a year per sailor), a smaller crew takes up less space, enabling the smaller crew to have more comfortable living quarters. This is a big deal as far as morale and retention (getting people to stay in the navy) goes. Most other new items are not space dependent, except for some of the power based ones (like the rail gun). But these technologies are receding farther into the future. Right now the navy has to find a way to live within its budget, and refurbishing existing warships shows more promise than trying build affordable new ones.

But the navy can afford more Burkes because this is a design that is the culmination of over half a century of World War II and Cold War destroyer design experience. Even after the Burke was designed, in the 1980s, the design evolved. The  first Burkes were 8,300 ton ships, while the latest ones, laden with more gear, and smaller crews, are 10,000 ton ships (what heavy cruisers weighed in World War II).  With a top speed of nearly 50 kilometers an hour, their main armament is 90 vertical launch tubes flush with the deck, that can contain anti-aircraft, anti-ship, anti-missile or cruise missiles. There is also a 127mm (5 inch) gun, two 20mm anti-missile autocannon, six torpedo tubes and two helicopters. The Burkes were well thought out, sturdy and they got the job done. They became irreplaceable, and thus this class of warships will last more than half a century.

 

 

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Othon       8/14/2010 6:40:55 AM
So what are present US Navy plans about composition of future surface fleet? Now it seems all "super-stealth" cruiser and destroyer projects were abandoned. Therefore US Navy still has to rely on Ticos and Burkes for two decades forward. As for now about 70 Burkes will be in service in addition to 22 Ticos. However aside of aforementioned upgrades US plan to build 24 Burke Flight III class ships in 2016-2031 period. Will Burkes Flight III replace Ticos after 2020 being in fact new cruiser class? Does it mean that need of super-stealth capability for warships diminished today?
 
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shep854       8/14/2010 8:01:28 AM
Sounds like FRAM* 2010. 
 
*Fleet Rehabilitation And Modernization--a 1960s program to upgrade WWII destroyers. See Wiki.
 
This would give new meaning to the old slogan,  "When you're out of FRAMs, you out of  'cans'. "
 
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AThousandYoung       8/14/2010 4:50:27 PM
That's appropriate. Burke was the man who started FLAM.
 
Destroyers are the backbone of any Navy is seems to me, and the height of the Cold War was our logical peak as a military superpower.  This seems like a good idea.
 
 
 
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Juramentado       8/14/2010 5:28:55 PM
The Navy has always been reluctant to talk about force structure revisions, and so it is with the case today. The new philosophy that will dominate the surface navy is BMD, and all remaining Ticos and current Burkes will be brought to that standard. Flight III Burkes will be the hybrid, likely taking in the same technologies that will be housed in the Zumwalts. The timing is just about right - most of the yards will be pushing the Zumwalts into the water then switch to the new generation Burkes thereafter. The problem in force structure today is that there is a great capability gap between the DDGs and the LCS. The transition is almost jarring in many ways....
 
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Rick9719    Destroyers?   8/15/2010 11:22:17 PM
Destroyers?  At 8,300 tons?!?  The Atlanta class CRUISERS were only 6,000 tons.  These maybe wonderful ships but they are NOT Destroyers. 
 
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gf0012-aust       8/16/2010 12:38:25 AM

Destroyers?  At 8,300 tons?!?  The Atlanta class CRUISERS were only 6,000 tons.  These maybe wonderful ships but they are NOT Destroyers. 


the original destroyer class was approx 430-600 tons.
 
its not therefore about displacement, its about capability and to some extent politics.
 
 re politics.  the word "destroyer" has become politically incorrect and is oft termed "frigate"
 
in fact the Darings were originally going to be light cruisers rather than destroyers.  the original destroyers were torpedo boats etc.....
 
its all in a name ....
 
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WarNerd       8/16/2010 3:21:17 PM


Destroyers?  At 8,300 tons?!?  The Atlanta class CRUISERS were only 6,000 tons.  These maybe wonderful ships but they are NOT Destroyers. 
 
the original destroyer class was approx 430-600 tons.

its not therefore about displacement, its about capability and to some extent politics.

 re politics.  the word "destroyer" has become politically incorrect and is oft termed "frigate"

in fact the Darings were originally going to be light cruisers rather than destroyers.  the original destroyers were torpedo boats etc.....

its all in a name ....

In the current Navy vs. pre-WWII

Aircraft Carriers are the new Battleships
Destroyers are the new Cruisers
The LCS is supposed to be the new Destroyer, i.e. an expendable attrition unit, but they have not figured out a reasonable design yet.
 
 
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JFKY    A destroyer is   8/16/2010 3:57:07 PM
a General Purpose, Screening Vessel.  It has NOTHING to do with weight or displacement.
 
Read Friedman for a discussion of the reasons for displacement growth.  After World War II the MINIMUM vessel for ASW combat was determined to be the 2,500 Ton Fletcher Class.  This is an outgrowth of the need for VOLUME, and hence displacement.  Volume for CIC's, and for ASW-oriented CIC's, and other electronic spaces, maintenace areas and spares.  Also, the necessary volume for ASW ammunition.
 
The Fletchers, the Gearings, and Sumners were over-loaded by the end of WII.  The next generation of Task Force Screening Vessel was much larger, at nearly 4,000 tons displacement (Mitscher Class).  The demands of volume have not diminished since.
 
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gf0012-aust       8/16/2010 5:03:47 PM

a General Purpose, Screening Vessel.  It has NOTHING to do with weight or displacement.

the original destroyer concepts were displacement and role classed.

it started pre WW1 when torpedo boats were regarded as the swarm ship killers.  they were renamed destroyers due to their role of being a maritime hornet to be used against the larger capital ships.

at 4-650 tonnes they were regarded as small lightweight ships which could get in and out of the fight and take it the larger enemy - the name/type change was intended to reflect this.

as a class they've evolved. but the injection of politics has not.  its why contemp frigates are the new destroyers, and why in a number of capabilities, the new frigates are actually more powerful than WW2 and post WW2 light-med cruisers.  the term frigates is used because its regarded as politically less offensive in some countries.  

some of the cold war destroyers were more than able to take on and kill light post ww2 cruisers due to the range, accuracy and yield of their guns - even though a smaller calibre etc....

if push came to shove some of the Singaporean corvettes (ironically the same displacement as some of the pre WW1 destroyers)  would make absolute mincemeat of a WW2 med-heavy cruiser

the class type isn't in a temporal flux...- the capability today is radically different




 
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WarNerd       8/17/2010 3:14:11 AM

JFKY    A destroyer is   a General Purpose, Screening Vessel.  It has NOTHING to do with weight or displacement.


It is not what the class was originally built to be, but how they use it.  The Burke's and  Ticonderoga's fulfill the traditional missions of cruisers simply because there is nothing else available smaller than a carrier.  And they are to valuable to use for one of a destroyer's most important traditional roles, to eat a torpedo (or cruise missile) in the place of a larger warship.
 
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