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Surface Navy Concerned Reduced Destroyer Modernizations Will Increase Risk in Future Fights

USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53) conducts a flight test from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii. US Navy Photo

USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53) conducts a flight test from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii. US Navy Photo

The Navy’s reduced combat system modernization schedule for its legacy Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyers (DDG-51) puts the surface fleets ability to tackle ballistic missile defense (BMD) tasks — as well as protect high value ships like aircraft carriers — at risk, the service’s director of surface warfare told Congress.

What’s at issue is the balance between the global proliferation of cheaper and more effective guided weapons, U.S. military demand for ballistic missile defense ships, reduced modernizations to existing destroyers and the current two-a-year DDG build rate, Rear Adm. Peter Fanta testified before the House Armed Services subcommittee on sea power and projection forces last week.

At the moment, the current fleet of 88 large surface combatants — the Navy’s generic term for guided missile destroyers and cruisers — could handle a so-called near-peer adversary but is on a trajectory to fall behind in the next decades.

“If you ask me about the fight today and can we win against the near-peer adversary? The answer is, absolutely,” Fanta said in his opening remarks to the subcommittee on June 18.
“But that is today.”

The equation is set to change as more modern weapons and delivery platforms enter the global arms markets.

“We see risk in tomorrow’s fight. If we do not modernize fast enough, if we do not build fast enough, if we slow down our build rate of large surface combatants, if we slow down our modernization rate of large surface combatants, there will be a risk when the advanced threats arrive in numbers from the development stages they are in now to a production stage from a potential adversary sometime in the next decade-plus,” Fanta said.

Most of the current crop of destroyers can handle protect against one type of threat at a time — BMD or the traditional air warfare (aircraft and cruise missiles). The latest Baseline 9 modification to the Burke’s Aegis combat system upgrades the ship’s systems to handle both simultaneously.

“My requirement at this point is 40 advanced capability ships that have the capability of both knocking down an incoming ballistic missile while simultaneously looking for and firing upon an incoming cruise missile that’s at the surface of the ocean,” Fanta told chair Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va).
”So that is a minimum of 40 advanced capability ballistic missile ships.

As reported by USNI News in April, much of the calculus behind the increased risk and demand is due to requirements for large surface combatants to protect high value assets like aircraft carriers and amphibious ready groups (ARG) from traditional threats like aircraft and of ballistic missiles.

USS Halsey (DDG-97), USS Michael Murphy (DDG-112) and USS Gridley (DDG-101) underway on May, 23 2014. US Navy Photo

USS Halsey (DDG-97), USS Michael Murphy (DDG-112) and USS Gridley (DDG-101) underway on May, 23 2014. US Navy Photo

While the Navy had originally planned to upgrade all of its 62 Burkes to Baseline 9, the Navy elected as part of the FY 2015 budget submission to reduce the modernizations for its 28 Flight I and II destroyers and only funded seven Baseline 9 ships.

The modernization effort shrunk further as part of the FY 2016 budget submission when the service elected to further reduce its modernization profile cutting five of the more modern Flight IIA ships out of the Baseline 9 loop for a $500 million savings in its five year funding plan.

The ships with the legacy BMD systems “are perfectly capable of handling advanced threats, but just in that one BMD capability. What we don’t want to do is mix the peacetime presence requirement of those — I won’t call them lesser capable, but baseline capability ballistic missile ships with the advanced ones, Fanta said.
“I need to beat a high-end competitor at sea in the middle of a fight in the middle of the ocean.”

Without sufficient numbers of Baseline 9 ships, the service may need to increase the size of the carrier strike group (CSG) from five large service to handle the demands of both BMD and traditional air warfare, USNI News understands.

The state of U.S. surface forces reflect the ongoing funding struggles in the Navy as the service faces the looming $100 billion bill for the dozen planned Ohio Replacement nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) the service has deemed its number one priority.

The Navy has asked Congress to alleviate the budget challenge so the cost will not reach into other program.

“So my biggest concern is downstream is essentially Ohio replacement and the potential impact it could have on our capability and capacity if we are tasked to fund that entirely,” Rear Adm. Victorino Mercado, director of the Navy’s assessment division (OPNAV N81), told the panel.
“Right now we can do, just like [Rear Adm.] Fanta said in the opening, we can deal with a near-peer competitor with the numbers we have. My concern is the effect on that capability and capacity depending on how we address the build of an Ohio replacement.”

 

  • bryanmcgrath

    Appreciate your work on this beat, Sam.

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  • NavySubNuke

    It would be helpful if the Navy was able to purchase a surface combatant smaller and cheaper than the current DDG-51’s but also have actual capabilities to accomplish real world missions (unlike the LCS). But since SECNAV has made it clear he is more interested in building a “large” battle fleet rather than a capable one ready for the future that is unlikely to happen.

    • Curtis Conway

      Is there anyone out there with an idea like that?

      • NavySubNuke

        There are actually some pretty good frigate designs out there – I wouldn’t accept any of them off the shelf but with slight modifications they could be excellent additions to the US Navy.

  • publius_maximus_III

    More destroyers, more destroyers, more destroyers — the backbone of the Navy.

    Not the big ones, the Arleigh Burke size.

    • redgriffin

      What good are your destroyers if they aren’t loaded with the best equipment? If a navy did that they would be no better then the ABAD Command in WWII in other words murderers.

      • publius_maximus_III

        Way over my head with that one, Edom. Please explain.

      • NavySubNuke

        I don’t know — I would rather have 10 destroyers with 80% of the capability of 1 mega-destroyer with all the best equipment. Quality is important — but what you really need is the best possible quality at a price you can afford to build the fleet size you need.
        (note: in a perfect world where money was no object I would obviously rather have 10 mega-destroyers with all the best equipment —- but unfortunately that world doesn’t exist)

        • redgriffin

          It strikes me as stupid to want to put a ship out on patrol and in harms way that isn’t at least as modern as we can make it.

          • NavySubNuke

            Again in an ideal world where money and time don’t matter that works. But you have to realize that is impossible in the real world.
            We currently – and have always – send ships out without the latest and greatest technology. hips go 5 – 10 years without major availabilities to upgrade their systems. We would go broke – and our ships would never leave the shipyard – if we were constantly trying to keep them in a completely modern configuration. In reality isn’t unusual to have 3 or sometimes even 4 “generations” of a system – things like fire control for instance – out in the fleet as you slowly work upgrades throughout the fleet based on ship schedule, shipyard availability, and budget.

          • redgriffin

            Stop sounding like your talking to an idiot. I know ships go out that way I’ve sailed on them. The Fact is also that the Navy has begun to put off repairs and upgrades of it’s equipment if that is the case then it is time that Congress stepped in and did the job they were hired to do which they won’t.

          • NavySubNuke

            Sweetie I was sounding like I was talking to an idiot because your comments left me pretty much convinced I was talking to an idiot. And your latest comment is no exception to that — do you really think the navy has “begun” to put off repairs and upgrades as if this is the first time it has ever happened?
            Honestly man if you really were in the Navy and pay attention to how this country works than you should realize that statement makes no sense. Budgets are cyclical – they go up sometimes they go down sometimes. This isn’t anything new or different then what the Navy has previously experienced in the pass and will experience again in the future.

          • redgriffin

            Well I sorry I want to keep a nations assets alive while some just want to work up to false numbers.

          • NavySubNuke

            It’s ok sweetie – I realize at your age it is easy to lose touch with the reality of how the world works and long for the good old days that never actually existed. Have a great day!

          • redgriffin

            You should really stop putting yourself down I refuse to help you keep you do it. Have you considered help?

          • NavySubNuke

            ***pats redgriffin on the head*** Its ok sweetie – I’m not the one who needs help. Also, I imagine what you meant was “I refuse to help you keep doing it” but hey who am I to judge.

          • redgriffin

            Well we always said there was something wrong with a man who jumped out of a perfectly good airplane and a sailor who went out on vessel designed to sink. So See you next time you wantr to step on my constitutional right Beautiful BU BYe

          • NavySubNuke

            I’m not sure what makes you think someone is stepping on your
            “constitutional right” —- or what makes you think the constitution only gives you a single “right” as opposed to the numerous rights it provides those of use who live in real world – but have a great day anyway and thanks for the entertainment.

          • redgriffin

            Read your comments beautiful calling a peon and idiot for expressing opinion’s and thought could be considered by many to be censorship. But they I may be wrong Bubye good looking..

          • NavySubNuke

            Uh oh – someone disagrees with you —- you are being oppressed! Your rights are being taken away by some mean man on the internet! Oh the humanity!
            I imagine when you said “calling a peon and idiot” you meant “calling a person an idiot”. Which if you were smarter you would have realized I have not actually done to this point – what I said was “I was sounding like I was talking to an idiot because your comments left me pretty much convinced I was talking to an idiot”
            Your subsequent comments have only served to completely convince me that my original assessment of you was in fact correct.
            In the future you would do well to take Mark Twain’s words to heart: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”

          • redgriffin

            Okay I never said that but you never told anyone WHT YOU DISAGREED WITH THEM. You just tried a childish put down and kept at it now I’m out of here because I refuse to have a battle of wit with an unarmed man.

          • NavySubNuke

            Actually if you go back and read the comments I told you from the beginning why I fundamentally disagreed with your premise. When you clarified your position I then pointed out why what you were advocating for was not possible – in this budget environment or an any budget environment. My statement was based on assuming you were ignorant of the condition of Navy ships since this is nothing new or different.
            At that point the whole conversation went off the rails because as you put it you “I know ships go out that way I’ve sailed on them” yet even though you acknowledge that you know ships go out that way you then state “The Fact is also that the Navy has begun to put off repairs and upgrades of it’s equipment” —- yet you just stated that you know that is the case and yet now you present it as if the Navy is doing something new and dastardly.
            At that point, after it was clear that you had no actual premise and were just angry about sequestration, is when I began toying with you for the sheer entertainment value — and it has been entertaining.

          • JJSchwartz

            Think it’s time to end this thread, guys?
            Maybe if the LCS program was canceled and the money redirected we’d have a better, though not perfect, surface combatant force balance.