New threats, including some that are classified, drove the Navy's remarkable decision to whack the DDG 1000 program down to two ships and to restart the DDG 51 line.
While no mention was made at last Thursday's hearing about Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles, I understand this is the most likely threat. Observers of the Chinese military have been increasingly concerned that China might deploy such a capability since their successful anti-satellite test. The ability to modify a missile to destroy a satellite is very similar to the ability to modify one to destroy a ship, two experts have said. The main difference between the two acts lies in what radar provides targeting data. Anti-ship intercontinental ballistic missile could post such a grave threat to carriers that the Navy's single greatest weapon could become so vulnerable as to leave commanders unlikely to deploy it in challenging situations, exactly the time when they are most needed.
But Vice Adm. Barry McCullough, the deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, said almost nothing explicit about anti-ship ballistic missiles at the House Armed Services seapower subcommittee's hearing. He did mention quiet diesel submarines, such as China has used to successfully stalk at least one carrier, and he also mentioned Hezbollah's use of Chinese-made C-802 missiles in July 2006, when the terrorist group seriously damaged the Spear, an Israeli Saar 5-class missile ship, that was enforcing Israel's blockade of Lebanon.
Also, McCullough said the DDG 1000 would not provide area air defense, while the DDG 51 does. If the Chinese anti-ship missiles are such a grave threat, choosing a ship with that capability by itself would make the almost unprecedented decision to severely curtail a major Pentagon acquisition effort in mid-stream almost obvious.
Put these changes together, the admiral implied, and you come up with a new threat calculus, one that requires a major shift in Navy acquisition. The admiral pointed to new requirements from European Command, Pacific Command and Central Command for improved defense against ballistic missiles and air defense as driving the navy's decision to stop the DDG 1000 program at two ships. One bonus, he pointed out to lawmakers, is that the 313-ship Navy will come about two years earlier than 2019, as currently planned.
The larger strategic shift, McCullough made clear, is from the Navy's focus on the littoral back to blue water. But the Navy has left so much unsaid about the threat, about its own decision making and about details of its plans for the reborn DDG 51 that several lawmakers and observers at the hearing were left wondering just how strong the Navy's case was, including former vice admiral Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Penn.) who pointed out that the Navy's Chief of Naval Operations said in testimony before Congress three years ago that backing away from DDG 1000 wouod "put at risk the lives of our sons and daughters." What has changed, and where is the Navy's analysis supporting this shift to DDG 51, Sestak asked. "Wow," said the congressman about the shift, "we are turning on a dime."
McCullough said the Navy began serious analysis of the new course about four-and-a-half to five months ago. But members of Congress have not seen any analysis yet and the Navy is unwilling to talk with the press. When approached after last week's hearing, the admiral and his aides virtually ran from the press pack and refused to answer any questions.