Two weeks ago, the Navy canceled plans to build the rest of its hulking stealth destroyers. At first, it looked like the DDG-1000s' $5-billion-a-copy price tag to blame. Now, it appears the real reason has slipped out: The Navy's most advanced warship is all but defenseless against one of its most common threats.
We already knew that the older, cheaper, Burke-class destroyers (pictured) are better able to fight off anti-ship missiles -- widely considered the most deadly (and most obvious) hazard to the American fleet. Specifically, the old Burkes can shoot down those missiles using special SM-3 interceptors; the new DDG-1000 cannot.
But now, a leading figure in the Navy, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (and Vice Admiral) Barry McCullough, is saying that the DDG-1000 "cannot perform area air defense" at all. Never mind the SM-3; the ship isn't designed to fire any kind of long-range air-defense missile, whatsoever. It's presumably limited to the same last-ditch "point defense" systems (Phalanx guns and short-range missiles) that cargo ships, aircraft carriers and even Coast Guard cutters carry in case a missile slips past their screening Burkes. Those point defenses can't intercept ballistic missiles at all -- and when they destroy sea-skimming missiles, the debris can still strike and severely damage the ship.
In other words, the world's most expensive surface warship can't properly defend itself or other ships from an extremely widespread threat. That, needless to say, is a problem. Not only is the DDG-1000 vulnerable to the ballistic anti-ship missiles that countries such as China are developing, it wouldn't even be particularly effective against common weapons in the arsenals of everyone from Russia to Iran. And it's not like this was some kind of new threat; these missiles have been around, in one form or another, since World War II.
If that wasn't bad enough, the Navy has been saying all along that the DDG-1000 can fire at least some of Raytheon's missile-killing Standard Missiles. In other words, according to the inestimable Galrahn over at Information Dissemination, "the Navy has been delivering a lunchbag of bullshit to Congress regarding surface combatants for three years."
In a 2005 presentation, for instance, the Navy claimed the ship would have a "3X survivability rate" against anti-ship missiles and other threats. The service asserted that the destroyer's new SPY-3 radar would give it a "15X greater detection capability against sea-skimming targets," a "10X increase in maximum track capacity," and a "20% greater firm track range against all anti-ship cruise missiles (improves survivability)." Of course, the fanciest radar in the world doesn't do much good, if there's no way to respond to the threat.
A Navy source tells Defense News that the new destroyers "could carry and launch Standard missiles, but the DDG 1000 combat system cant guide those missiles onward to a target."
And that's not the only flim-flam going on here. For years, the Navy insisted that the DDG-1000 was absolutely crucial, because it could whack targets on land, from far-off at sea. It always seemed like an odd argument; could planes hit those targets just as effectively? But the Navy stuck to it -- repeatedly. Now: Never mind. "With the accelerated advancement of precision munitions and targeting, excess fires capacity already exists from tactical aviation," Adm. McCullough says. Tell us something we didn't already know.
There may be additional threats, as well. Defense News is reporting that the Navy has announced that there's a new "classified threat" against which older Burke-class destroyers are better defended.
One source familiar with the classified briefing said that while anti-ship cruise missiles and other threats were known to exist,those aren't the worst.The new threat, which didn't exist a couple years ago,is a land-launched ballistic missile that converts to a cruise missile. Other sources confirmed that a new, classified missile threat is being briefed at very high levels. One admiral, said another source, was told his ships should simply stay away. There are no options. Information on the new threat remains closely held.
In light of this, Galrahn says, the DDG-1000 is little more than a renamed, gold-plated version of a shipbuilding scheme that seemingly died more than a decade ago. That would be the 1990s "Arsenal Ship" concept (pictured), which would have put hundreds of land-attack missiles in a simple, cheap, mostly defenseless hull -- perhaps based on a cargo ship. The Arsenal Ship idea eventually was replaced by the Navy's four new SSGN submarines that each carry more than 100 cruise missiles and don't need anti-air missiles, since they can submerge.
"The Navy has not only kept the Arsenal Ship concept alive and well, but they evolved the program from 6 small dependent combatants into a class of 7 independent stealth battleships, then had the program funded and pushed through Congress in plain sight under the pretext of a more capable program," Galrahn writes.
That's insider-speak for a simple truth: The Navy screwed up its premiere ship-building project, big time.