DDG-51 Cut: Not The End, But Maybe The Beginning Of The End?

by Craig Hooper on May 22, 2021

I discussed the “surprising” DDG-51 cut in the Portland Times Herald last week, and, while I get the frustration about how the Congress and the Navy seem to treat “multi-year” and “block” buys as more piggy-banks than real obligations, I think you’re stupid if you don’t believe the DDG-51 is going to end sometime in the next decade–nibbled away at the low end by the Constellation Frigate, hit on the high-end by whatever dreamboat cruiser NAVSEA picks out, and then killed, in turn, by the Columbia SSBN and the wild-eyed “innovators” who believe we must throw away all the old to rebuild anew.

General Dynamics isn’t really in a place where it can squawk too much, either. It’s building the Columbia class, after all, so it’s gotta be willing to take a few hits as it gleefully gets the lion’s share of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget. And Bath isn’t really helping–it’s got a big backlog that the Navy can feel alright poaching from for a few years. The Navy can also probably look at Bath and ask something about how they’re not diversifying by really going after the Coast Guard’s Offshore Patrol Cutter re-compete or the icebreaker or some other things.

But at some point the Navy will need to put cards on the table. You cannot have CNO Gilday rocking up to the yard, “bullish” about everything only to cut a hull little more than a week later. The Navy needs to say what their intentions are with big surface combatants, and give the yards some time to plan for what’s next. As I said:

“If it is the end of the line for Arleigh Burkes, the Navy needs to say so,” said Hooper. “At some point, programs come to an end and it’s obvious that the end of the road could be in sight for the Arleigh Burke-class. It has been a great run, but it’s time for BIW to start thinking hard about what the alternatives are and what’s next.”

You can talk about DDG-X all you want, but what’s the demand signal going to be? Where is it going to fit in the fleet? Nobody knows, and nobody in a leadership position at the Navy or Department of Defense has the guts or the knowledge to put a strategic template out there yet.

But General Dynamics has a job to do as well. If the Navy isn’t going to offer an idea, then they also need to do some thinking about what comes next and push for it. As I say, the cut may be…

“reflecting the interest of the Department of Defense in modernizing the American military,” said Hooper. “The focus is changing from conventional, large warships to a new model, that we don’t quite understand yet, of smaller and potentially unmanned vessels. It’s up to General Dynamics to figure out where the Arleigh Burke fits in that.”

The only problem is that nobody in General Dynamics can safely advocate anything that might threaten the Columbia Class…and that is a tough place for a yard like Bath to be.

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