While no "final" decision has been revealed, the indications "inside the Beltway" are that the Navy's long-gestating DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer program will end with only two ships. Indeed, there are also rumors that even those two ships will not be constructed.
Contracts have already been awarded for the first two destroyers -- authorized in the fiscal year 2007 budget -- to General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works (Maine) and to Northrop Grumman (Pascagoula, Mississippi). Originally the Navy planned a class of 32 of these DDGs, but, as previously reported here, last year the Navy cut the program to seven ships, although the 32-ship requirement was still "on the books."
The Navy's leadership, both uniformed and civilian, has been lackluster in its support of the DDG 1000 class. Indeed, the current Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Gary Roughead, when recently asked by Congress what he believed the new ships' most important feature would be, he told of the reduced manning for the ships.
The new "destroyers" are to have a full-load displacement of almost 15,000 tons and an overall length of 600 feet -- the dimensions of a cruiser by most standards. Armed with two 155-mm rapid-fire guns (with a range of more than 75 miles firing guided projectiles) and 80 Standard and Tomahawk missiles or their equivalent, and fitted with a large manned- and unmanned helicopter facility, the ships would be highly capable, multipurpose units.
The price has become a "deal breaker" for some involved in the shipbuilding process. The Navy estimates that the first two ships will cost $3.3 billion each, with follow-on ships to cost $2.5 billion. This compares to the last of the 62 Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) destroyers having a cost some $1.2 billion each.
The most likely, near-term alternative to the DDG 1000 is to resume construction of the Burkes. The Navy now has 62 in the fleet and under construction. The former CNO, and now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has declared repeatedly that the Navy does not need additional Burke-class ships. And, restarting that line and updating the ships would give them a pricetag of about $2 billion each. (The Burke original design dates from 1979.)
Further, according to Navy data, even building two Burkes per year, and dividing the buy between the two shipyards, would probably not enable keeping the Bath Iron Works yard in business.
The lack of Navy support for the DDG 1000 is seen by some observers as a rationale for accelerating the Navy's next surface combatant, the CG(X) missile cruiser, which would be optimized for the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) role. This seems ironic because there was no Navy requirement for the DDG 1000 to have that role, although her new-design radars could certainly have been developed with that capability. Of course, even after the ships are completed their radars/fire control systems could be upgraded for the BMD role. That is exactly what is being done now for the Aegis cruisers of the improved Ticonderoga (CG 47) class and for the Burke-class destroyers.
Further, the CG(X) is getting significant support in Congress, especially from Representatives Gene Taylor (D-MISS) and Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), who want that ship to be nuclear propelled. They have even proposed a new generation of Burke-class ships with nuclear propulsion! Both proposals are ludicrous when one looks at the percentage of U.S. oil consumption by the Department of Defense (less than 2 percent) and the percentage of that which is used to drive U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships (about 8 percent). Considering the additional cost to design and construct nuclear-propelled ships; adding the cost of recruiting, training, and retaining nuclear-qualified personnel; and including disposal costs of those ships, and the idea does not hold water.
Further, the basic DDG 1000 design could become the CG(X) -- obviously not CG(X)N -- with only modifications to the ships' radar/fire control systems. The ships have a significant growth margin and deleting the two 155-mm guns could provide space for additional missiles or other advanced features.
The DDG 1000 is not, in this writer's opinion, the best surface combatant that could have been produced at this time. But considering the time and dollars that have been invested in developing the DDG 1000 design and the ship systems, and the Navy's need for additional surface combatants, the DDG 1000 is far, most superior to the alternatives available.