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Another chance for DDG 1000?

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead is winding up an eventful tenure as the Navy's top officer, and that, writes AvWeek's Michael Fabey, could present an opportunity for a major program that Roughead spurned: The Navy's advanced Zumwalt class of destroyers, also known as DDG 1000. Also known as DD(X). Also known as DD 21. Working at first behind the scenes, then with the support of DoD leadership and allies on the Hill, Roughead marginalized the mainline role that DDG 1000 once was to have played in the future of the surface force, drawing it back to a class of only three ships, built as much to make work for naval shipyards as to satisfy the service's need for a futuristic new warship.

But as Fabey argues, Zumwalt has had good efficiency and execution when compared to other big Pentagon programs, and the pending arrival of a new CNO, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, could also bring the potential for a modified or expanded DDG 1000. Wrote Fabey: "Any time a chief of naval operations (CNO) gets ready to leave, U.S. Navy shipbuilding programs on that CNO's hit list look at the transition as a resurrection opportunity. And no vessel program would stand to benefit more from Adm. Gary Roughead's departure this fall than the DDG-1000 Zumwalt destroyer."

Quite. Fabey goes on to describe the exquisite mystery of the DDG 1000's capabilities, which were the official cause for the program being dialed back to three ships and the Navy deciding to restart production of its long-serving Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Maybe the DDG 1000 can handle the SM-2, -3 and -6 family of missiles, and maybe it can't. Maybe its sensors can be upgraded to perform ballistic missile defense or "integrated air and missile defense," and maybe they can't. The answers seem to depend on how strong the coffee is brewing at the Pentagon Starbucks on the day you ask.

From the perspective of shipbuilder Bath Iron Works, DDG 1000 was a success snatched from the jaws of defeat: The program stayed alive, it secured the work, and you know the rule when any weapon goes into production -- it becomes very hard to stop. The Navy, in fact, has had such a difficult time fielding a replacement for its DDG 51s that its most recent 30-year shipbuilding program even includes a future "Flight IV" version of the ship, which service officials evidently feel will be easier to sell to everyone than try to risk building a whole new class.

As to Fabey's question, though -- could Greenert's arrival mean the potential for more ships in the class, or at least for clarity as to what their capabilities will be? Buzz bets: No to the former, yes to the latter. When the Navy was making its case to Congress that Zumwalt should be "truncated," its top officials told the House Armed Services Committee the ships couldn't handle Raytheon's Standard missile family -- as such, they'd be vulnerable to air or missile attacks. "What?" screamed Raytheon. "Of course the ship can accommodate them!" Oh, the Navy said, well, it's the invisible beams you need to make the missile go where you want -- the ship don't got 'em. This continued until everyone got frustrated, but the Navy got what it wanted: A limited class of three ships.

(A cynic might point out that there's even reason to suspect the class may only end up including two ships -- the Navy has named DDG 1000, the Zumwalt, and DDG 1001, the Michael Monsoor, but as yet given no name to DDG 1002. A future ship with no name, it could be argued, it easier to make go away.)

Now that some time has passed, there's no reason not to expect that Greenert's arrival could mean the world learns definitively what the Navy actually plans for its ships to be able to do.

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