No Need to Rush Next-gen Destroyer Program: US Navy Secretary

Foreign Affairs

New York: The US Navy is in no hurry to move onto the next-generation destroyer program, dubbed DDG(X), but will wait until a design and the underlying technology is ready, the service secretary said.

As a result, “we probably will continue to build DDG Flight IIIs for a long period of time,” Carlos Del Toro said of the current program. Del Toro said he’s trying to bring ‘good discipline’ to the Navy’s major acquisition programs, ensuring better cost estimates up front and maturing key components in the lab before committing to buying and fielding a platform.

The US Navy is eyeing three major new programs whose timing, as previously outlined by the Navy, would have created a pileup of cost and risk for the service in the early 2030s. The service needs a DDG(X) to replace today’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers; an SSN(X) to replace today’s Virginia-class attack submarines; and a Next Generation Air Dominance fighter to replace today’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornets.

The programs were previously on track to enter design and construction in that order — the DDG(X) in fiscal 2028, SSN(X) in FY31 and NGAD sometime in the 2030s — but Del Toro said the service would not move on an artificial timeline, instead waiting until the technology is right. He noted that the Flight III Arleigh Burke destroyers, the first of which is nearing completion at the Ingalls Shipbuilding yard in

Del Toro cautioned against seeking a “transformational destroyer” design — akin to what the Navy did in the 1990s and early 2000s with the Zumwalt-class destroyer — and expressed his preference for something that more closely resembled the Burkes.

For all three upcoming development programs, he does not want the Navy to move ahead until “we have design maturity on these platforms,” despite any timelines already pencilled into Navy long-range shipbuilding plans.

The US Navy achieved a milestone for its destroyer Jack H. Lucas on January 10, 2022, marking the beginning of the ship’s combat systems test program that will culminate in trials and delivery to the fleet for this first ship of the Flight III configuration. Though Del Toro said it would be prudent to continue Arleigh Burke Flight III construction until the DDG(X) is mature enough to enter production, that plan is not without some risk.

The Navy planned to buy two destroyers per year for the next several years, and it requested authority from Congress to sign a five-year contract with General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works and HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding for nine ships with an option for a 10th, spanning FY23-FY27. Instead, lawmakers on December 8 passed a National Defence Authorization Act that allows the Navy to buy as many as three ships a year during that time frame. But Del Toro is unconvinced the industrial base has the capacity to do that.

He said industry is churning out an average of 1.8 destroyers annually, and that includes schedule delays created early in the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as some ongoing labour and supply challenges. He emphasized that this isn’t just the case for the two shipyards but also a problem for companies throughout the vendor base that supply parts and government-furnished equipment, like the SPY-6 radar, at the heart of the Flight III upgrade.