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.

Posted by galrahn in Navy

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  • UltimaRatioReg

    Notwithstanding the second-order FFG-7/LCS sub-debate, several commentors in all three posts have pointed to the need in the USN for cultural change. Your last paragraph here points out one aspect of that culture that needs to change. ($$$) What I hope we don’t see is these useful little ships leaving service with just a few very expensive replacements, or no replacements at all. We have already started to see that, with a few being decommissioned (one with only 15 years’ service!) and a bunch of these vessels being sold under FMS.

    We lost the CGNs (Virginias) before their time and without sufficient replacement, ditto the Spruances. Looks like the Perrys are next. The nearly-new Ticos have lost 5 in their class because of a decision not to install VLS and upgrades. When is the USN going to stop disposing of valuable, modern warships as if there is a bottomless well of super-high-cost replacements?

  • Byron

    ” bottomless well of super-high-cost replacements?”

    That we’ve seen only one of the three classes, and that one an over-priced, under-manned, un-defended vessel of dubious utility? If FFG is SLEP’d and upgraded, it would obviate the need for LCS.

    BTW, anyone want to bet what we could do with TACTAS and NIXIE spaces with respect to the MIW mission? One helo hangar for mission (X), the other for 3 VTUAV Firescout? Oh, and McInerney is doing it’s trials with 2 Firescout, not just one.

  • “If FFG is SLEP’d and upgraded, it would obviate the need for LCS.”

    This is completely inaccurate. The necessity for a vessel to forward deploy unmanned vehicles exists, and no existing FFG, DDG, or CG hull can do this anywhere near the level we need this capability (one could argue the LCS doesn’t either). The only existing vessels that can do this instead of LCS are amphibious ships.

    The two ships serve two completely different functions for the fleet, the FFG cannot replace the function of the LCS, and the Navy has suggested the function the FFG brings to the fleet is no longer necessary.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “the Navy has suggested the function the FFG brings to the fleet is no longer necessary.”

    Which Navy? The Big Navy or the Navy that serves aboard/with those ships?

    I recall the “Marine Corps” deciding in the early 1990s they didn’t need the capabilities of self-propelled howitzers. That didn’t seem to be shared by the fire supporters or the maneuver (infantry and armor) who relied on them for close and continuous fire support in the maneuver fight…

    “Didn’t need” always seems to be a euphemism for “can’t afford” or “not sexy enough”.

  • Byron

    Gahlran, which one of these wonderful unmanned vehicles is ready to deploy today? I mean plug it and get going? You’ve got a ship that cost a half billion dollars that had to go right into a 4 month, 40 million SRA after a piddling trip through the SLSW and a bit of ocean, and if you got the commissioned ship, the damn wonderful modules should be ready to go. I think I recall Sid saying the ASW module is tits up right now, and the PMs are asking for more money. This whole program is starting to smell like the A-12…anyone remember that money pit? Worked out real well, didn’t it.

    Bottom line, we need the fleet we can afford today, rather than the Harpoon-world fleet we can make in the Database Editor. The REAL fleet world isn’t like it is in Harpoon, never has, never will be.

  • Benjamin Walthrop

    The scenario described by Galrahn is certainly thought provoking, and appears to be a reasonable vision of what might have been.

    One thing that is certain in my mind. The USN should be buying new ships at a cost of 35K-50K man-days per year for the foreseeable future. The 50K man-day figure is about what we are currently executing, and the 35K man-day figure would eliminate the industrial capability equivalent to the General Dynamics team as the build program is being executed now.

    The USN must keep building new ships in order to credibly maintain the industrial infrastructure to build ships. SLEPs and repair are part of the picture, but are not the same capability set as building the new ships and combat systems.

    The quest for technology is also an important part of the strategic equation. In 1775, Joshua Humphreys said in answer to a question of building frigates that were different from the European designs of the time:

    “It is determined of importance to this country to take the lead in a class of ships not in use in Europe, which would be the only means of making our little navy of any importance. It would oblige other powers to follow us intact, instead of our following them….It will in some degree give us the lead in naval affairs.”

    While the United States no longer has just a little Navy, technological risk taking to force others to follow our lead should still be an important part of our overall strategy applied to our shipbuilding programs. There is certainly room for debate on the appropriate level of technology risk and industrial capability risk we should take.

    It appears to me that very debate is unfolding before us. I would dearly love to know just how many DDG 51 class ships it will cost the USN to build to fight the holding action (maintaining industrial viability) to get to the FSC solution that is being placed in the budget as a place holder.


    B. Walthrop

  • pk

    the gang really has to get the sacred cows noses out of the rice bowls to get what you want/need.

    thats all there is to it.

    could start by promoting the warriors and boosting out the ticket punchers.


  • Larry Schumacher

    IMHO stealth at sea is where air stealth was with F117 requiring major compromises in all other capabilities. I do not believe it is wise to compromise seakeeping to achieve stealth in a major warship! My recommendation is to 1. SLEP FFG7 now to cover gaps in TOE for next 20 years. 2. Develop a 5000 ton escort to take the place of our DDG51 fleet in that role freeing them up for other duties. 3. Cancel DDG1000 and DDG51 follow ons to concentrate on CGX. 4. Research stealth at sea until it is at F22 level, then build a DDG1001

  • The idea of a “stealthy” 14,500 ton warship in the littorals, where it will be surrounded by fishing boats and other vessels, is ridiculous. If you want to argue that said stealth is a passive defense against ASM’s fine, but how much more is this hullform going to cost us vs. a conventional hull? And how effective a defense is it?

    I can easily support many of the technologies behind the DDG-1000 platform, such as the integrated electric drive and the AGS. But I cannot support a $3.5 Bn “destroyer”.

    As to Galhran’s earlier statement that the LCS is needed to operate the unmanned systems, it contradicts an earlier statement of his- virtual presence is physical absence. He has railed against the LCS’s lack of manpower for peacekeeping operations, but argues against the FFG with twice the manpower of the LCS. He says we need these unmanned systems, but we don’t really have any working unmanned systems yet. The smart thing would be to develop the unmanned systems, then build the hull to fit them.

    I personally wouldn’t be very enthusiastic about SLEP/FRAM for the FFGs. But I sure would like to see an FFG(X) designed and procured rather than the LCS.

    G says, “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.

    I say, I’m going to need a good deal of convincing that a 3000 ton vessel armed with a popgun is the best way to deal with speedboats in the littoral.”

  • B.Smitty

    Let’s not forget, the seven Zumwaults can also carry 4200 LRLAPs.

    We could replace one or both AGSs with 64 cell Mk41s instead, if we really were just interested in maximizing VLS cells.


    Is there any precedent for extending the life of a destroyer 20 years past its designed service life.

  • Byron

    Let me be a bit clearer on the “SLEP the Figs!” statement: This is only a stop gap, enough to carry the Navy for 10 years until a REAL replacement for the Perrys can enter the Fleet. I do NOT accept the LCS as a viable concept. I think it’s another example of tailoring a ship around certain systems being paraded for Congress and JCS. THE main talking point for LCS, as Galrahn states, are the off-board systems. Unfortunately, none of them are more than test articles yet. This by itself is enough to SLEP the Figs, since Lord knows when we’re going to see this actually work like it’s supposed to. Better we have Figs on station today, than LCS sometime in the future with no guarantee the concept will work.

  • Moose

    “1. SLEP FFG7 now to cover gaps in TOE for next 20 years. 2. Develop a 5000 ton escort to take the place of our DDG51 fleet in that role freeing them up for other duties.”

    3 thoughts on this:

    1. Define the “escort” role that Burkes are doing which you apparently believe they are tied up with.

    2. If you’re SLEPing FFG-7s to get another 20 years out of the class, why buy a 5000 ton “escort” at the same time? If FFG-7 can’t do “escort” after a SLEP, what good is it?

    3. We have 55 Burkes and growing, exactly what duties need to be done with 55+ Burkes that would require us to design a whole new class to do “Escort” so as to “free up” the Burkes?

  • UltimaRatioReg

    I know the question was addressed to Galrahn, who is orders of magnitude smarter than I, but to answer “Is there any precedent for extending the life of a destroyer 20 years past its designed service life?” the answer is an unqualified YES. Gearing FRAM II extended the lives of those DDs from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. Their original design was for 15-20 year service life. (Most being built 1944-46.)

  • B.Smitty


    Well it’s an academic argument, since virtually all of the Spruances were sunk as targets in various exercises.

  • Byron

    It’s not an academic argument until the Figs are sunk, or the fat lady sings 😉

  • B.Smitty

    Byron, I was referring to Galrahn’s idea of SLEPing Spruances.

    Certainly there are still plenty of FFG-7s afloat.

  • Saturn5

    I suppose the Spruance’s were sinkexed for the same reason why the FFG’s lost their MK-13. They did not have an AEGIS system. I wonder that was the reason for USN to decide to get rid of the non-AEGIS destroyers and to downgrade the frigates?

  • The Srucans were SINKEXED for the same reason the Navy is desperate to sell off the FFGs.

    You can’t convince Congress to fund new construction when there’s a lot of old construction sitting laid up.

  • It is too late for the Spruance class, it wasn’t my intent to suggest we need to utilize those that are left. My intent was to show how the DDG-1000, for all the talk about what it will be, is really nothing more than a larger Spruance class that trades several passive/active defensive systems and a 5″ gun for a for stealth and the 6″ AGS at enormous cost increase.

    When the CNO says DDG-1000 is not the right direction for the Navy, I agree with him completely. We have learned an expensive lesson, time to our losses and move on.

  • Curtis

    I used to balk at WQSB that put my fire control men in repair lockers instead of at their posts in the various fire control direction centers. I tried very hard to make the point that if they did their job as FTs that the ship would not take damage. Idiot SWO pointed out that we still faced damage from torpedo attacks. I countered by pointing out that no ship could survive a modern day torpedo (1985) so what was the point?

    I’ve been away from the FCO billet on a RIM 7M Spruance for awhile now. Does ESSM really give an “escort” an area defense AAW capability or is still a point defense system? I’d have thought the latter.

    Galrahn, can you give us any information on the recent announcement that the US DoS has blocked GE from installing and getting LM 2500 GTs on India’s newest destroyer operational? The news clip I saw said that somebody at State ordered GE to “stop work” until they reviewed the various programs currently ongoing around the world.

  • pk

    B Smitty:

    sleping destroyers was called the Fram program. USN did it on about 40 long hull fletchers in the late fifties and early sixties.

    fram was about a 30% really heavy conversion job during a yard period of about 10 months.

    there was another one that they did where they decommissioned the ship, cut every thing off above the main deck, replaced all of the aux machinery, replaced boilers…. then rebuilt the topsides with a new style of superstructure with all kinds of mast goodies.

    was done in the early sixties. Morton and Parsons were two ship names that come to mind.

    Service Life Extension Program was always done on aircraft carriers and after an exceptional mess accomplished by the great yard in Pennsylvania the term fell into disuse.


  • Curtis, ESSM extends the range and capability of Sea Sparrow, but not nearly enough to call it an area weapon.

  • Big D

    Ken, isn’t ESSM approaching the effective range of SM-1MR?

    That’s on the short side of “area”, but it isn’t much less than what the figs have lost…

  • Curtis, see here for details on the GE deal.

  • B.Smitty

    I’ve seen ESSM referred to as a “local-area” air defense system.

    Its published range is far larger (50+km) than point-defense missiles like RAM (7.5km), SeaWolf (6km), or even Sea Sparrow (~19km).

  • B. Banzai

    You are a smart dud and know much about Naval history . . . but not so much about Naval Combat Systems. Much of what you said is pretty much implausible from a technical standpoint. You are counting VLS cells and forgetting about a modern 3D radar, increased electrical and cooling requirements, the computing suite to run it all, software development for this “unique” creature, rehab of the entire HM&E . . . big $$$

  • B. Banzai

    Damn . . . I meant “dude” not “dud” . . . that typo really looked like a slam and that was not my intent.

  • Professor R.

    Maybe its just me, but I don’t see the value in the LCS. It’s 3000 ton ship with a 57mm pop gun, at the same price the German’s are building their new 6800 ton, F-125 frigate. Btw, these vessels carry a 5″/67 Oto Melara (with a 120km range using Vulcano ammunition), 16 harpoons, RAM, 2 remote controlled 27mm cannons, 5 remote controlled .50 cals, a hanger for two helos, and a boat deck with room for 50 troops. Notice that these frigates can do something that none of our ships can–NGFS. Maybe we should make it easy for ourselves and just outsource.

  • GunDog15

    “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.”

    Seems a lot of people really “don’t understand it”. Matter of the fact is Zumwalt will be SM-2 capable, not “just a big gun boat” as the CNO likes to say when he puts down the DDG 1000. The issue here is not added cost to the DDG 1000 but the cost required to upgrade the SM-2 interface (ICWI) to be able to communicate with the Zumwalt radars.

    The DDG 1000 will meet the Operation Requirements Document (ORD) written by the Navy (not contractors) and will have Anti-Air (SM-2 and ESSM), Anti-Surface (Close-In Gun System 57mm), Strike (AGS 155mm), and Anti-Submarine (VLA) capabilities when delivered to the Navy in 2013.

    PS – I seem to recall that the Spru-Cans were well worn out when they were decommissioned. The remaining OHPs are getting there as well. Also note recent INSURV failures of some of the earlier Burkes, which are approaching 20 year in-service dates.

  • Did the author of this ever ride an FFG? He states FFG’s did everything average and nothing well. I rode two of them, the USS Flatley (FFG-21) and the USS Boone (FFG-28) and we did EVERYTHING well.