November 12, 2013: Recently the U.S. Navy finally launched the first of three DDG-1000 “Zumwalt” class ships. It will take three years to install the rest of the equipment and test the new ship before it can enter service. The new destroyer (formerly known as DD-21 or DD-X) design has a stealthy superstructure and is as big as a battleship, at least a battleship of a century ago. Battleships went out of fashion after World War II. The modern battleship rapidly evolved in the decade before World War I (1914-18) and early in the 20
century some weighed as much as the Zumwalt. Battleship design rapidly evolved through 1945 to the point where the last ones weighed as much as modern carriers. A few battleships continued to serve after World War II but no more were built.
It’s less clear what future ships like the new Zumwalt will have. DDF-1000 is a 14,000 ton ship that is 194 meters (600 feet) long and 25.5 meters (79 feet) wide. The crew of 150 sailors operates a variety of weapons, including two 155mm guns, two 40mm automatic cannon for close in defense, 80 Vertical Launch Tubes (containing either anti-ship, cruise, or anti-aircraft missiles), six torpedo tubes, a helicopter, and three helicopter UAVs. The cruiser version (CGN, as Congress has mandated that these be nuclear powered) would drop one of the 155mm guns, as well as the torpedo tubes, but carry more vertical cells for missiles (especially anti-ballistic missile missiles). This would be a 20-25,000 ton ship.
For comparison purposes, consider a modern ship of a century ago. Not a support ship like a destroyer but a "capital ship." Back then a Mississippi class battleship displaced 14,400 tons, was 119 meters (382 feet) long, and 24 meters (77 feet) wide. A crew of 800 operated a variety of weapons, including four 12 inch, eight 8 inch, eight 7 inch, twelve 3 inch, twelve 47mm, and four 37mm guns, plus four 7.62mm machine-guns. There were also four torpedo tubes. The Mississippi had a top speed of 31 kilometers an hour, versus 54 for DDG-1000. But the Mississippi had one thing DD-21 lacked, armor. Along the side there was a belt of 228mm (9 inch) armor and the main turrets had 305mm (12 inch) thick armor. The Mississippi had radio initially, but the DDG-1000 has radio, GPS, sonar, Aegis radar, electronic warfare equipment, and the ability to shoot down ballistic missiles. The century old Mississippi class ships cost about half a billion dollars (adjusted for inflation). The DDG-1000 class destroyers will cost over $3.5 billion each, thus possessing the price, size, and firepower, if not the name, of a battleship. The U.S. Navy can't afford battleships and it is feared that the inability to control costs will mean the navy won't be able to afford many destroyers either. Many senior navy officers are aware that the way warships are procured has changed in the last century, and apparently not for the better. Many other nations do not have the procurement problems the U.S. Navy is suffering from. But attempts to fix the procurement mess constantly run into political opposition
It was in 2009 that the navy decided to build only three of the new DDG-1000s and instead resumed building older DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class destroyers. It was a matter of cost. The new DDG-1000 destroyers (and slightly larger versions designated as cruisers) would cost more than $3.5 billion each if built in large quantities. The Burkes cost $1.9 billion each. The last of 62 original Burkes was ordered in 2002 and the last of those entered service in 2011. But now, another 13 are on order and more may be ordered as well. The 9,800 ton Burkes are smaller, being 154 meters (505 feet) long and 20 meters (66 feet) wide. But even the Burkes have been growing, with the first ones weighing in at only 8,300 tons. In 1945, most destroyers were about 3,000 tons. This constant size escalation is something navies, especially the Americans, have had a hard time dealing with.
While the DDG-51 is much less expensive than the DDG-1000, some navy officials believe that in the long run the larger and more expensive DDG-1000 would be a better investment. The key problem here is the inability of the navy to control costs, and cost estimates, and the inability of the DDG-51s to provide space for new technologies. The navy hopes to overcome this by installing smaller versions of new tech in the DDG-51s and to upgrade other DDG-51s if the new stuff works out.
There are other problems as well, such as the costs of upgrades. Because of budget cuts (actual or expected), the navy plans to 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 would cost to keep each one 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 in 1979-83 could have been refurbished and been available until 2019. That's a lost opportunity. But what can now be done is to 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, will provide an adequate number of destroyers. There is a growing debate over just how many destroyers will be required and what they must be capable of but that has to take second place to budget constraints.
The current refurb policy costs 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 many of the things that have broken down or worn out (and been patched up) but also installs a lot 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 320, with the cruisers carrying 350). 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 to build affordable new ones.