My colleagues are asking questions regarding why didn’t we do all the neat upgrades to the FFG-7s and develop the Littoral Combat Ship instead. Well, because the FFG-7 is an open ocean, jack-of-all-trades escort that did everything average and nothing well. Maybe it is just me, but I’m having a hard time trying to figure out how the FFG-7s all armed up (and incredibly expensive not only to upgrade but operate) would be a better littoral solution than the unmanned vehicles option the Littoral Combat Ship is. I can’t say the FFG-7 gets me all nostalgic like some, and quite honestly I don’t see how the upgraded FFG-7 approach would be better, smarter, or more capable than the LCS. I’m going to need a good deal of convincing that carrying the most firepower we can squeeze into a 4000 ton vessel is the best way to deal with speedboats in the littoral. The fact is, the Adelaide-class frigates for the Royal Australian Navy performs the same role for Australia that the Arleigh Burke class frigates perform for the United States Navy. Personally speaking, I’ll take the unmanned systems from LCS and expand my Maritime Domain Awareness in the populated battlespace over the upgraded FFG-7 option.
The intent of this post is not to raise that debate, but rather suggest that because the FFG-7 upgrade vs the LCS is a debate regarding two very different capabilities, reasonable people can disagree regarding the best way forward. It is absolutely legitimate to say one is a better choice over the other, as both arguments can frame the future operating environment in a way that better justifies the way they would prefer to approach future challenges. I think it is a great debate, but instead of spilling that debate onto these pages, keep it to Salamanders post.
The FFG-7 vs LCS debate is a case where reasonable people can disagree, because we are talking about two very different capabilities. If you are looking for a debate to really boil your blood, lets keep it in the SC-21 family and take a serious look at the DDG-1000. You want to keep spamming my email with what you call realistic Zumwalt fact checks? Rebuttal this.
The Zumwalt class destroyer comes with 20 × MK 57 VLS modules, comprising a total of 80 missiles. According to Congressional testimony by VADM Bernard J. “Barry” McCullough, III the DDG-1000 is not capable of supporting the Standard series of missiles. For people who don’t quite understand it, essentially a bunch of capabilities for the DDG-1000 are follow on spiral developments that require a bunch of additional funding in order for Zumwalt to include the same AAW capability we enjoy on our AEGIS ships. These costs, because they are not part of the base ship program, are all extra and essentially outside the existing Zumwalt budget. If added to the Zumwalt budget, the DDG-1000 is going to cost more than even the very conservative figure of $3.5 billion average for seven ships.
That means the MK 57 VLS can only support Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM), Tactical Tomahawk Vertical Launch cruise missiles (TLAM), and Anti-Submarine Rockets (ASROC). The DDG-1000 also comes with 2 × 155 mm Advanced Gun Systems with 600 shells available. The DDG-1000 also has 2 × Mk 110 57 mm guns, which is the same gun on USS Freedom (LCS 1).
If we think a bit about load configurations for the Zumwalt, we might see a few different configurations. The ship is touted to be a major anti-submarine fighter in the littoral, so it makes sense to give the ship 8 ASROCs in all configurations. If the ship dedicated 4 PVLS cells to ESSM, one potential missile load would be 32 ESSM, 8 ASROCs, and 64 TLAMs. If the DDG-1000 was a primary escort for an ESG, the missile load might favor more close air defense with 8 PVLS cells dedicated to ESSM. That would be a missile load of 64 ESSM, 8 ASROCs, and 56 TLAMs. We will use both configurations for our analysis.
Lets think about the 24 VLS Spruance class ships the DDG-1000 is replacing with only seven hulls.
The Spruance class had one MK41 Vertical Launch System with 61 cells, a typical missile load could have been something like 45 TLAMs and 16 ASROC missiles (I will also calculate below with 53 TLAMs and 8 ASROCs). The class also had 2 MK 141 quad launchers for 8 Harpoon missiles and 1 MK 29 launcher which carried 8 ready to launch and up to 24 total NATO Sea Sparrow (or ESSM if upgraded) missiles. The ship did support a Mk 49 RAM in late models, and 2 5-Inch 54 Cal. MK 45 Guns with around 600 rounds. We shouldn’t forget the 2 MK 32 triple tube mounts w/ six Mk-46 torpedoes or the 2 MK 15 20mm Phalanx CIWS Close-In Weapons Systems.
For the record, both ships have the hanger space for 2 H-60s or 1 H-60 and 3 Fire Scouts. Both ships are optimized for anti-submarine warfare although the Zumwalt class is better in littoral environments and the Spruance class is better for blue water submarine threats.
The biggest difference between the ships is the cost. The Navy retired 24 VLS upgraded Spruance class ships with the intent to replace with the Zumwalt class by adding 6″ guns instead of 5″ guns. Zumwalt also has a newer radar with a lower radar cross section. For the record, the most optimistic estimates for the 7 DDG-1000 ships is currently an average of $3.5 billion per ship. That figure does not include the $11 billion R&D.
So what do we get? Seven Zumwalt class ships with two possible combined loadout totals:
- 1st missile load would be: 224 ESSMs, 56 ASROCs, and 448 TLAMs. (plus 2 57mm for AAW)
- 2nd missile load would be: 448 ESSMs, 56 ASROCs, and 392 TLAMs. (plus 2 57mm for AAW)
24 VLS Spruance class ships with two possible combined loadout totals:
- 1st missile load would be: 576 ESSMs, 384 ASROCs, and 1080 TLAMs. (plus a 21 missile RAM, 2 CIWS for AAW)
- 2nd missile load would be: 576 ESSMs, 192 ASROCs, and 1272 TLAMs. (plus a 21 missile RAM, 2 CIWS for AAW)
Looks like I am skewing the numbers right because I am counting all 24 VLS ships? The Spruance class would have ships retired by now, so legitimately this is an unfair comparison.
OK, so what if we took only the last 9 Spruance class destroyers, upgraded and SLEP all 9 for 20 additional years on top of the 35 year life they were designed, and spent the enormous amount of $1 billion each to insure the very best 9 Spruance class ships possible.
The 9th youngest Spruance class was USS Cushing commissioned 9/21/1979, which is slightly less than 30 years old today. At 35 years that would be 2014, and adding an additional 20 years for $1 billion would get the ship until around the 2034 time frame. If I had 9 VLS Spruance class with 53 TLAMs and 8 ASROCs, my load out would be:
216 ESSMs, 72 ASROCs, and 477 TLAMs (plus a 21 missile RAM, 2 CIWS for AAW)
In other words for $9 billion the Navy could have 2 more ships and roughly equal firepower additions to the fleet that they would be getting from adding 7 DDG-1000s. Not only that, but the Spruance class has better blue water ASW capability, which is what the Navy told Congress last year the Navy needs right now (PDF), and the Spruance class has actual direct and indirect defense systems as opposed to the Zumwalt’s near complete reliance on stealth.
But here is the real kicker. What if the Navy still spent the $11 billion for the 10 new technologies of the DDG-1000 AND spent $9 billion upgrading 9 ships? The DDG-1000 program will cost a minimum average of $3.5 billion for each of 7 ships, so conservatively roughly $24.5 billion if the ship class isn’t canceled.
In other words, if the Navy had spent $9 billion on the last 9 Spruance class ships (and it should be noted we built the Spruance class for around 1 billion dollars per ship) and the $11 billion in R&D for the DDG-1000 much touted ten new technologies, the Navy still would have saved $15.5 billion on the DDG-1000 plan, come out 2 hulls ahead until 2034, and been better aligned for the threat environment for submarines today as per testimony by the Navy in Congress last July.
While people might think the FFG-7 vs LCS conversation is a mess, the core of that discussion is in regards to two very different strategic views for littoral warfare. In the DDG-1000 vs Spruance class, we are debating exactly the same capabilities for both ships! The DDG-1000 is nothing more than a super expensive Spruance class which requires even more money to turn into an AAW ship, which for the record, the same amount of money the Navy could probably have used for the Spruance class to produce AAW capability including BMD, so that point is mute too.
I’m going to take a WAG and suggest the Zumwalt fact checkers forgot to mention how ridiculous the Zumwalt program is in context of the ship it is replacing.
In my opinion, the FFG-7 vs LCS debate makes the Navy look smart, because at least that debate is strategic in regards to the ways of littoral strategy. There is nothing smart about the DDG-1000 program right now, and quite honestly, it is outright shocking just how stupid the DDG-1000 program makes the Navy look upon reflection of where the Navy has been and where the Navy is with this program.
The CNO is trying to kill the DDG-1000, and I say support those efforts. There are very few if any strategic reasons why the DDG-1000 makes sense for the costs, and the supporters of the program right now are in the Senate. Considering the amount of industry interests in the DDG-1000 program, we can only gue$$ why the Senate might think the DDG-1000 is still a viable alternative. Unless the DDG-1000 becomes a stimulus budget investment, there is not a cost effective or strategic reason to keep this program.