Surface Forces: DDG 1000 And a Century of Destroyers


April 12, 2006: The U.S. Navy will name it's second LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) LCS 2 "Independence." The last two U.S. warships to carry that name were aircraft carriers. The first LCS, still under construction, has been named LCS 1 "Freedom." The navy has also selected a name and number for the first of its new class of destroyers. These have been called the DD(X) class until now, but the first, and the class, will be called DDG 1000 Zumwalt (after 1970s Chief of Naval Operations, or CNO, admiral Elmo R. "Bud" Zumwalt, Jr.). Admiral Zumwalt was a reformer, and the youngest CNO ever.

The Littoral Combat Ship is, simultaneously, revolutionary, and a throwback. The final LCS design is to displace about 3,000 tons, with a full load draft of under ten feet, permitting access to very shallow "green" and even "brown" coastal and riverine waters, where most naval operations have taken place in the past generation. Top speed is expected to be over 80 kilometers an hour, with a range of 2,700 kilometers. Built using "smartship" technologies, which greatly reduce personnel requirements, the basic LCS is expected to require a crew of about 50 in basic configuration, but will have accommodations for about 75 personnel. The ship is designed for a variety of interchangeable modules (e.g., air defense, underwater warfare, special operations, surface attack, etc.), which will allow the ships to be quickly reconfigured for various specialized missions. Crews will also be modularized, so that specialized teams can be swapped in to operate specific modules.

There are actually two different LCS designs, a semi-planning monohull from Lockheed-Martin and a trimaran from General Dynamics. The first LCS was laid down by Lockheed Martin in Marinette, Wisconsin, in June of 2005 and is expected to be commissioned in 2007, after months of sea tests in 2006. LCS 2 was laid down in late 2005. These, and LCS 3 and LCS 4, to be built by Lockheed and General Dynamics, respectively, are essentially prototypes, and serial procurement will probably not begin before 2008, when initial design flaws will have been worked out. Ultimately, the Navy hopes to have between 50 and 60 LCSs by the middle of the next decade, at a unit cost of about $90 million apiece.

In many respects, the LCS is a "throwback" to ship developments a century ago. The LCS is a cheap, short range, heavily armed jack-of-all trades warship. That's what the first destroyers were, when they appeared a century ago. Another throwback angle is the price, and the way it historically creeps upward. Currently, the navy expects to pay about $310 million per LCS (more than three times the initial "estimate.")

The new class of destroyers, the Zumwalts, aren't really destroyers. They're cruisers. The current American cruisers are built on the same hull as are U.S. destroyers. Why the U.S. Navy persists in calling these 9,000 ton ships "destroyers" is something of a mystery. In the rest of the world, even the term "destroyer" is falling out of favor. Traditionally, you had destroyers, cruisers and "capital ships" (once battleships, now aircraft carriers). Today, the preferred progression is, frigates, cruisers, capital ships. It appears to be kind of a PC thing, with the term "destroyer" now considered a bit too rough for the ears of voters.

Not only are the Zumwalts big, they are very expensive. They are expected to cost well over a billion dollars each, likely closer to two billion. That's one reason for the LCS. There are a lot of dangerous jobs that destroyers used to do, because they were cheap and "expendable." But today's destroyers are too expensive to risk like that. So we have the LCS, a "destroyer" for the 21st century. Most other navies would call ships of the LCS size and weight, a "frigate." Actually, several foreign navies have expressed an interest in buying LCS from the U.S., and these foreign navies may just go call them "frigates."


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