As the latest shipbuilding notes leak out over at the subscription newsletter insidedefense.com, 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.