The Fight For DDG-1004 Has Begun

by admin on March 9, 2015

140412-N-PM781-002Love the DDG-1000 or hate it, supporters of America’s multi-billion dollar “battleship-as-destroyer” program have largely been–up to now–quiet on the sidelines of Washington’s unseemly post-Sequestration budget scrum.

In the vast array of American defense programs desperate to avoid closure, an old survivor like DDG-1000 (previously known as the arsenal ship, the DD(X), etc., etc.) has been conspicuously low profile. That relative silence (intricate Christening ceremonies and fawning press treatments aside) left many DC observers thinking that General Dynamics would be content to let the program quietly die off after three hulls.

Too many informed DC folks wrote the DDG-1000 off. They explained the DDG-1000 away as a modern analogue of the one-of-a-kind super-expensive Norfolk Class DL-1, a ship that spent most if it’s life as a technical demonstration platform. Others saw the DDG-1000 program as more akin to the 4-hull, somewhat experimental Mitscher Class (DL-2). Others pointed at the three-boat Seawolf (SSN-21) Program. All of these were high-cost, high-tech programs that ended quickly.

Conventional wisdom held that DDG-1000 was–after it’s 2009 cancellation–merely an experiment, saved from outright elimination just to keep the Marine Corps from harping for another decade about the lack of naval surface-fires.

To bend a phrase from a London socialite’s description of a washed-up, post-World War I Winston Churchill, the conventional DC line for this program was, “Oh, the DDG-1000? It’s finished.”

They were wrong.

141114-N-EW716-003It is starting to look like General Dynamics is going to fight for the DDG-1000 production line–frankly, it’s a battle General Dynamics must wage. They’ve invested far too much in Bath–making far too many DDG-1000 specific yard improvements to even consider stopping the DDG-1000 production line at three hulls. Canceling DDG-1000 is corporate suicide.

Personally, I’ve been expecting some sort of fight for the DDG-1000 from the moment Fred Harris–a program expander “par excellence”–was moved from NASSCO to lead Bath into the future. And I guess, now that the three Program of Record ships are safely awarded, Huntington Ingalls is out of the program and the first hull is set to start builders trials, the long-expected battle is upon us.

arsenal_72First Shots

The first shot in the upcoming battle for DDG-1004 was fired in a January issue of National Defense Magazine from Third Way scribe, Ben Freeman, Ph.D.. His op-ed, “Canceling the DDG-1000 Destroyer Program Was A Mistake“, summed up the latest strengths inherent in the “offensive” DDG-1000 design, attacking the merely “defensive” Flight III DDG-51.

Here’s the relevant bit:

All of these comparisons between DDG-51s and DDG-1000s belie the fact that the ships should not be competitors; they serve different, but complementary roles that are both essential for the future of the U.S. Navy. Fortunately, it’s not too late for Congress to act — the DDG-1000 production line is still hot. If we’re serious about having a Navy that can adapt to the threats of tomorrow, then we need to get serious about DDG-1000’s today.

It’s a classic–and rather nicely done–pay-for-platform-advocacy piece.

Ben plies his trade well, damning the DDG-51 with faint praise. He talks up the DDG-1000 gun (while waving away magazine-size concerns with some “endless magazine” VERTREP-while-firing scheme), the DDG-1000’s big flight deck, the DDG-1000’s power-generation capability vs. current consumption, the small crew size, the available margin…banging away at a “DDG-1000 beats DDG-51 Flight III” theme.

The next shot came at last week’s naval hearing at the Senate Appropriations Committee. I was particularly struck by a question from Bath Ironworks’ Senator Susan Collins, where she asked CNO Admiral Greenert to detail the advantages of the DDG-1000.

10435539_906979052647811_9060054854301000841_nCNO Admiral Greenert, in a fresh-faced “I’m not really running to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs” performance, didn’t disappoint. He flashed his rarely-seen-by-staff “aw-shux” grin of an avuncular uncle, leaned into the mic, and sung the DDG-1000’s praises:

Firstly, as you said, the cruise is one-third, so that’s about 150 versus the cruiser of today close to 450 right off the bat.

It has enough power to — ah, the power required to run the ship and all its systems is only 50 percent of the capacity of the ship, so this thing can grow as we get more payload. It has tremendous growth.

It’s radar-evading, as I say. It’s stealthy. So it — it’s a — on radar, it looks about the size of a tugboat, you know, if you would imagine. And then, of course, there’s an acoustic element. If ah, you’re under the water and you’re listening to it, it does not sound like a cruiser or a destroyer. It sounds like a very, very small craft [editor’s note: Check out the video of the testimony–the expression on the old submariner’s face here is hysterical]. So there’s another evading piece.

It has a tremendous missile — cruise missile capability, anti- air capability. It has a dualband radar. That means it can track anti–uh ballistic missiles while protecting itself from cruise missiles that that dual-band has a gun that goes twice as — three times as far, about — right now about 70 miles versus the best we can do today is about 15 miles, so that’s five times — excuse me. It goes on, Senator.

This thing is a quantum leap in capabilities.

For those of us who have been around the rodeo for awhile, that set-piece was a shot heard ’round the world. A Senator like Susan Collins (R-Bath Ironworks) only asks these types of questions-for-the-record if she has been told to ask it.

By a big constituent.

Like General Dynamics.

131028-O-ZZ999-103Battle Lines

I don’t quite know what the battle lines in this fight for DDG-1004 will be.

Obviously, DDG-1000 supporters will point to plans stating that all the ships will operate in the Pacific, making contributions on the front lines there.

Then there’s the pricetag. We are already seeing how the high cost of the DDG-51 restart is being used to make the DDG-1000 look far more palatable.

Frankly, the timing is right to use DDG-1004 to take a big bite out the Flight III DDG-51 program. The Flight III DDG-51 is going to be a mess–rather than asking the tired old DDG hull to do more with less (i.e. design a lower-cost DDG-51 Littoral variant), the hull is being asked to do more with…more. There’s just not enough room left in the DDG-51 hullform for all the fancy high-end stuff the Navy wants–I mean, when the Navy is sacrificing hangar-space for an extra generator, that’s…well…not a great tradeoff.

(It’d be far more worthwhile to try and close out the DDG-51 line with a rough-and-tumble low-end variant. Instead, the Navy is consuming every bit of the DDG-51’s margin for high end sensors…that the legacy destroyer can now barely carry.)

web_010614-N-8894M-001So…in comparison to a cramped, no-margin missile-defense DDG-51 Flight III, extending the DDG-1000 production run might not be a bad thing.

And then, for General Dynamics, there’s the added advantage that Huntington Ingalls can’t complete for DDG-1000 like the DDG-51. They’d never get the price low enough to win.

Is DDG-1000 A Winner? 

I don’t know yet.

Extending the DDG-1000 may well be a better long-term investment for the Navy than a refresh of the DDG-51 line.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m concerned that the DDG-1000’s small crew (slightly bigger than a LCS) will be overwhelmed by the DDG-1000’s vast warfighting responsibilities, that the DDG-1000’s none-too-hefty missile arsenal is unable to be replenished outside of port and that, well, the ship is just too big to be survivable in modern combat…but…at least there’s room enough in the ship to try and fix those problems with some kind of refit…or newbuild (cough CG(X) cough cough) re-design.

Personally, I had seen the big, beefy and “redesigned-to-get-the-kinks-out-and-price-down” LPD-17 as a potential low-end competitor for the DDG-1000. But now that the LPD-17 follow-on is being competed–between GD/NASSCO and, essentially, Huntington Ingalls, I suspect General Dynamics may win and, in essence, take over that hull–eliminating a potential lower-cost DDG-1000 competitor. We shall see. But with the DDG-1000 going head-to-head–and likely beating the DDG-51 restart…without an LPD-17-esque hull, there’s no competition for the big surface combatant niche.

But I’m also beginning to wonder if spinning off variants of existing hullforms offers better value than, say, embarking upon another clean-sheet newbuild combatant. American newbuilds don’t have a good record–The U.S. needs years to work through all the kinks. On the other hand, America’s refits and variants enter the fleet far, far faster, for far, far less. So it may be the right time to bite the bullet, and learn to love the DDG-1000 despite the platform’s inherent structural and operational flaws.

Finally, I think there’s also a cautionary lesson somewhere in all of this–the Seawolf Class SSN. The Seawolf was cancelled as being too expensive for the post-Cold War world. But the replacement, the Virginia Class SSN, offered less and ended up costing about as much (and–looking at the costly SSBN(X) I’ll be willing to bet we could have found a way to cost-effectively cobble a few ballistic missiles into a Seawolf hullform if the Seawolf was still in production, as well). So, rather than kill the DDG-1000 at three hulls, let’s take all the work that has been done to set up a production facility, all the work that has been put into developing a serviceable platform, with, by all reports, pretty good HM&E, and start taking a look at what a DDG-1000 Flight II might be. Who knows?  It might just be the ship America needs.

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Mulling Mr. Stackley’s Exit

by admin on February 28, 2015

thumb_STACKLEYIt’s rumored that Mr. Sean Stackley, the long-serving, low-profile Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, is contemplating exit strategies. Passed over for Navy Undersecretary, and with Sequestration eating away the research budget, big and ugly first-in-class problems looming for both the Ford Class CVN and the DDG-1000, the F-35…and the festering sore that is the next-gen LCS/Frigate, only a masochist would want to stay.

But the bookish Assistant Secretary is not going to rush for the exit. My sense is that Mr. Stackley’s departure won’t come before early 2016, when Mr. Stackley finally beats Franklin D. Roosevelt’s long-standing record tenure as Navy Assistant Secretary–about seven and a half years.

For an Assistant Secretary, 7.5 years is a long time, and it’s worth taking a few moments to consider Mr. Stackley’s legacy (you know, before Mr. Stackley takes a few months off and is drafted into a higher-level DoD post in some new Administration!).

America’s Fleet is the Fleet Mr. Stackley bought:

Navalists can quibble over the procurement choices made during Mr. Stackley’s tenure all day long. But on the industrial base side, Mr. Stackley has made good use of what funds he was given, positioning America–as best he could–to counter an emerging China or other slow-developing maritime challenge.

Mr. Stackley tried to provide everybody in the business with viable options so they could live to fight another day, leaving, essentially, a functional (albeit a very weak, over-capacity and almost-mothballed) industrial backbone–that could, if sufficiently funded, grow quickly to support a rapid uptick in demand.

Naturally, some sectors have done better than others. One of Mr. Stackley’s crowing achievements has been in tending the sub production line. America’s undersea platform industrial base is perfectly placed for rapid growth. Remember the sturm and drang that the Trident Program unleashed as it got going? In conjunction with the Los Angeles Class build-up? Remember the labor disputes?  The poor quality? The near collapse of Electric Boat?  That won’t happen as SSBN(X) starts up (sure, labor access and ramp-up is always a challenge, but the sub industrial base is far more prepared now).

stackley with pressMr. Stackley’s Legacy

As for Mr. Stackley’s legacy, it all depends upon just when (or if) China decides to become a belligerent player on the open seas, and when (or if) China starts being perceived by the public as a direct threat to the United States.

If the transition from non-threat to threat is relatively slow in developing, Mr. Stackley will be a hero for maintaining America’s naval industrial base. It the threat doesn’t materialize, Mr. Stackley will be fondly remembered for his skill at keeping the industry afloat for as long as he did.

But…If relations with China remain peaceful for, say, another five years, only to deteriorate suddenly, then Mr. Stackley’s legacy will not be a positive one.

The question for historians will be whether Mr. Stackley’s legacy of providing “viable” (if not totally palatable) industrial base options was the appropriate route. Given the strategic challenges, a more Lehman-like confrontational approach might have been better (which is something that should be worth discussing if when Mr. Stackley is nominated for higher office).

Anyway, it all may have been out of Mr. Stackley’s capable hands–such a tactic would have demanded gutsy leadership, and would have only worked with some top-cover from higher-level folks in DoD and the Administration (and they certainly didn’t want to pick a fight).

Precipitating an industrial base crisis–where a large component of the shipbuilding industrial base might need to be sacrificed–would have been a far more risky route, but, that said, an industrial base crisis might have pushed the American taxpayer (and Congress) to better understand the potentially ugly geopolitical challenges out there–and spur them to take adequate measures to prepare for a longer term strategic challenge.

Or not.

My sense is the Nation will miss Mr. Stackley’s option-laden care-taker approach. And I suspect, that after such a long and behind-the-scenes tenure, the Defense community has long taken Mr. Stackley for granted.

Industry has about a year to prepare for Mr. Stackley’s departure, and they’d be wise to start right now. It’s going to be a particularly rough ride when Mr. Stackley finally does retire, and–mark my words–the tenure of Mr. Stackley’s replacement will be nasty, brutish and short.

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We’re Back!

February 16, 2015

Forgive the blog pause. A lot has been going on. We’ve moved; I am now based in the Washington DC region, where I have joined a boutique national security/strategy consulting firm. (So here’s the obligatory reminder that the views expressed here are my own and do not represent my employer.). Also, my youngster is getting […]

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CSBA Puts Old Surface Warfare Wine In New Bottles

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For the past seventy years, U.S. surface combatants have been focused on defending aircraft carriers from either airborne or submerged threats. This all-important defensive mission has–for better or worse–defined America’s Surface Combatant Fleet–the fleet’s platforms, weapons and (most importantly) it’s mindset. The Surface Fleet’s overarching protective requirement has permeated everything about the surface combatant fleet. […]

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