As the latest shipbuilding notes leak out over at the subscription newsletter, the going “spin” is that missile defense has come out of this as “the big winner.” But how does missile defense really win in a shipbuilding program that axes the missile-defense-ready CG(X) and attenuates the DDG-1000? The whole world wonders…

Does this shipbuilding plan “spin” mask a growing concern over international submarine proliferation and a dire U.S. shortage of anti-submarine-warfare (ASW) capable platforms? Let’s take a look!

To get shipbuilding dollars, it makes a lot of political sense to play up the “missile defense” angle. ASW, frankly, leaves the large and powerful Congressional “missile defense” claque kinda cold. But a close examination of the new shipbuilding plan suggests that ASW, via the boosted production of DDG-51s, may actually become the big winner here. If that is the case, and ASW is getting a big boost, then why not openly discuss this change in emphasis and examine the policy implications of such a shift?

While missile defense does get a honest boost, in the new plan, missile defenders loose a lot. They don’t get their purpose-built, likely non ASW-capable CG(X) tech-demonstration platforms and have to make do with an attenuated DDG-1000 buy (even though the missile defense prowess of this plaform is under debate). Add the Virginia Class purchases and the 55-ship LCS buy (assuming the ASW modules are, like the larger LCS program, viable) to this new “proposed” shipbuilding plan, it sure looks like ASW is getting a far bigger slice of the overall resource pie than it was originally gonna have.

Projected shipbuilding data aside, boosting ASW makes a far better fit with what CNO Roughead spelled out as his major concerns back before he was appointed CNO! I know ADM Roughead is cagey around reporters, but…he has talked about sub proliferation. A lot. And yet, very few people–aside from Politico’s Jen Dimasco–have reported on ADM Roughead’s concerns about ASW and sub proliferation.

Let’s take a look at today’s set of Missle Defense “spin” articles…both come from Inside Defense. (no link, subscription) From the first comes this quote, taken out of a recently “leaked” internal Navy study:

“Compared to the Navy’s previous [313-ship] requirement . . . the Navy’s future fleet must evolve to provide increased capacity for ballistic missile defense and provide more balance with forces better suited for building partner capacity and conducting irregular warfare,” the report states.

But does missile defense come out as the big winner here? Not really. In a different Inside the Navy article (by the same author, no less) the over-reaching, poorly conceived CG(X) missile defense cruiser gets–thankfully–the axe, leaving an upgraded, up-powered DDG-51 platform the big winner:

The Navy is buying nine DDG-51s from FY-10 to FY-15 and anticipates adding an integrated air and missile defense capability to new DDG-51s as early as FY-16, the report states. These upgraded DDG-51s will be modifications of the current design, combining the “best emerging technologies” aimed at further increasing integrated air and missile defense capabilities and providing a “more effective bridge between today’s capability and what had been planned for CG(X), the service writes.

While the Navy has “much work” to do to determine the final design, the service envisions the DDG-51 variant having “upgrades to radar and computing performance with the increased power-generation capacity and cooling required by these enhancements,” the report states. The report also states procurement of a new class of DDG(X) destroyers will begin in FY-23 “and is anticipated to be a modification to legacy ship designs.”

Well, wonderful–instead of a bunch of missile-defense oriented battleships, we get multi-purpose DDG-51s with a computer/sensor upgrade and more power–stuff that may well help the platform pursue ASW a bit better than it does now. But the mainstream press is sorta forgetting that DDG-51s come with some ASW faculties as well–and they’re forgetting that it was, in significant part, ASW shortcomings that helped attenuate the DDG-1000 program in the first place.

And DDG-51s? They’re out there trolling for interesting sub contacts right now! Anybody remember the USS John S. McCain’s inadvertent encounter this summer? Anybody wonder how much time our legacy DDG-51s are spending on ASW today (right now!) versus serious missile defense?

ASW is missing from the shipbuilding debate. And yet, as friends and peers build quiet export submarines like hotcakes, we’re falling all over ourselves to minimize our potential future ASW needs by, say, scoffing at noisy Chinese subsand informationally disseminating fear of a carrier-killing DF-21 missile system that is, to date, little more than an untested glimmer on a China-hawk’s wish list.

What’s the greater need? ASW? Or ballistic missile defense? That’s a debate that needs to happen–because there’s a lot of complex geopolitical ramifications if we decide (or have already decided) that one or the other poses a greater, more pressing threat. So rather than hide our ASW buildup under some large missile-defense skirts, let’s have an open debate. Maybe it’d be a good thing to quietly start putting pressure on, say, our French, German and Italian friends to limit the spread of sub technology. If ASW is a priority, then somebody, please, say so.

Stranger things have happened, but why fear a good debate? It might be a long shot, but good debates, on occasion, lead to a stronger, far more capable Navy.

Posted by Defense Springboard in Navy

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

  • Sean

    Aren’t US submarines, read: Los Angeles-class submarines, the main ASW platform, anyway? I can’t think of anything better at finding something that is submerged, especially another submarine, than another submarine. Granted they can’t be everywhere at once, but it seems they did a pretty good job against the Soviets during the Cold War. Although back in those days, there were more subs to go around. But, hopefully some national security-minded beach vacationers will be on patrol this summer, like last summer, looking for surfaced Typhoons off the coast of New Jersey ( to help in all ASW efforts, as well.

  • It shouldn’t be “either, or”. If both functions are important then lets do it, but not necessarily with the same platforms. Were the Iowa BB’s built with ASW in mind?

    This is what happens when you only possess high end platforms geared for conventional warfare. You start losing your flexibility.

  • Mark Toomey

    It’s a shame that DOD no longer feels that the Coast Guard can contribute to ASW as it did from the 1940’s through 1990’s.

    The Coast Guard has twelve 378ft WHEC’s (High Endurance Cutters)that were orignally outfitted with ASW capabilities and subsequently had Harpoon missiles installed in the early 1990’s which were later removed with all ASW equipment when the conventional wisdom of the new world order lulled us into complacency.

    Currently eight 418ft National Security Cutters are being built as replacements for the WHEC’s and are suppose to have interchange able plug and play mission module suites as does the LCS platform. I believe that the USN/USCG should look at re-evaluating the value added capacity of a ASW equipped NSC as a force multiplier to the 55 currently planned LCS as part of the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower!

  • Mark, I concur. It’s a tragedy somebody didn’t lock the Homeland Security/Coast Guard guys in a room with the Navy folks to hammer out a shared LCS/NSC Cutter platform. And now we’ve got three models that are, for various reasons, unpalatable to both parties.

    But you’ve also gotta ask why the Cold War stint with the up-armed Hamilton Class left the Coast Guard with such bad memories they’re not eager to repeat the process…

  • Chuck Hill

    Don’t think the NSCs are capable of taking on more than one container, so are not capable of accepting a load out of a full LCS module–Too bad in my opinion.

    There is another chance coming with the Offshore Patrol Cutter which should be 25 ships replacing both the 210 and 270 foot cutter, nominally with a ship of about 360 feet if the current concept holds.

  • Chuck Hill

    The NSCs would make decent FFG replacements if we put a 16 cell Mk 41 launcher between the bridge and the gun and added a sonar.

  • Only if they get the price down first! Show me an on-budget NSC Cutter first, before we discuss any new mods!!!

  • Chuck Hill

    It is coming down, although still high. Stay tuned.

  • Byron

    (bangs head on desk…) As soon as you start talking about taking an existing platform like the NSC and adding things like a VLS and a sonar, you have immediately screwed things up. Not only will you make huge changes structurally to the ship, but you have also made demands on the electrical generation capability that might not be there. A base line ship, once all desired mechanisms and crew sizes are set, then requires you to 1) provide power, and 2) bunkerage for the generator sets, whether they be diesel or gas turbine.

  • Grandpa Bluewater


    You are correct it is a pain, but the existing plans are a place to start. Drop in a stretch section just aft of where the bow fairs into the rectangular cross section of the (more or less) midships section of the the hull girder. A stretch section worked for reengining the post WWII Tang class, after the vertical crank radial diesel generators were scrapped because they put the generator on the bottom for lube oil and fuel leaks to pool in. Stick the hull mounted sonar on the plug, closer to the G and B, harder to acoustically isolate than up at the bow, but doable I think. Use the extra volume for wing tanks and SSDG’s.

    Or razee a BAZAN at the second deck and modify above to suit, do without AEGIS. Lots of spare generating capacity, I’ll wager.

    Or just build the BAZAN: lovely little ship with lots of USN type gear,

  • pred

    You may have said it already: “legacy DDG 51s” doing ASW work. The new ones from USS Oscar Austin DDG 79 onwards do not have that towed array. Getting a few more hull mounted sonar equipped DDGs is not what I would call an ASW boost if you are loosing towed array sonar equipped CG(X). A few more mods required on those new DDG 51s apart from processors and radars it seems.

  • Ahh, pred, don’t forget the helicopters on the flight II’s…

    Last time I checked, they were pretty useful.