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Revenge of the Gray Elephant

As we've been saying again and again, 2012 is not shaping up to be a very good year for the military-industrial-congressional complex -- but still, where there are losers there can also be winners.

One such potential winner, writes Galrahn, is none other than our old friend DDG 1000.

The Navy ordered its second and third copies of the Zumwalt class in 2011, locking in the full program. Galrahn, having read Michael Fabey's report about the ships in AvWeek, suspects they're going to start to look like a bargain, especially compared to these potentially high costs for new Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

Wrote Galrahn:

The only sure prediction for 2012 is that it will be an interesting year for surface warfare discussions. The DDG-1000 is going to be an amazing ship, assuming the software side works out. Will it be a better investment than the DDG-51 restart? The answer is starting to look more and more like YES everyday, primarily because the DDG-51 restart isn't restarting the DDG-51 you think it is. AVIATION WEEK has been discussing this topic all year, specifically Michael Fabey in his many DDG-1000 vs DDG-51 articles, which in hindsight will be the background material for events soon to unfold in the coming year.

Here is his latest, an important read. I'll predict it here and now (again) - the GAO is going to look very favorably on the DDG-1000 over the DDG-51 restart. I'm looking forward to observing the SWO community reaction, because I expect to observe a great deal of denial and irrational reactions resulting from the GAOs analysis. I could be wrong about that, but I don't think so. The ugly side of AEGIS is soon to go public, and AEGIS is not simply a technology in the Navy - it's something similar to a religion.

Ah yes, "the Aegis Mafia." Belief system: Scuttle the small ships and let the amphibs rust, because cruisers and destroyers are where it's at, baby. Bristling with missiles. Most advanced radar and combat system afloat. Ripping up the ocean, "driving it like you stole it," shooting at targets and catching the cool breezes.

Like the old days of the Air Force's "fighter mafia," this corps of surface warfare officers holds powerful sway over the Navy's institutional decisions. It helped kill the Navy's onetime concept for an "arsenal ship," a big, slow, lurking vessel that would've trolled the oceans with a huge stock of missiles, but not taken glamorous pirate-fighting or anti-submarine or shore leave missions. And it was probably part of the movement that helped "truncate" DDG 1000, in part because of its "tumblehome" hull form, which makes many old salts nervous, and in part because of its many un-ship-like qualities.

DDG 1000 was supposed to have a sealed, pressurized pilothouse, for example, meaning its crew couldn't open its windows to look around. Instead a small group of watchstanders would've sat at Star Trek-style consoles, watching video displays of the surrounding waters. These included blind spots close to the ship and in places where cameras didn't overlap. This meant a captain would essentially have to stop his destroyer in the middle of a port and surrender to a team of tugs, given that he and his crew couldn't see well enough to maneuver or moor it without depressurizing the bridge and abandoning all their expensive TV cameras and topside sensors.

(Why, yes, this is a ship designed to operate close to shore to support Marines with its Advanced Gun Systems. But under standard protocol, the Navy will send enemies a memo before combat telling them they're not allowed to approach the ship in small boats or attack it from the coastline if they spot it visually.)

All this, plus the onetime fears about DDG 1000's cost, meant the Navy dialed the program back to only three ships. And as Fabey and others have written, it isn't clear whether the brass sees those vessels as operational fleet assets, or technology demonstrators, or what -- different admirals say different things on different days. The only thing anyone can say for sure is that the shipbuilders of Bath, Maine, are guaranteed work for the next several years.

After all this criticism and smart-aleckry, however, it looks like DDG 1000 could be getting payback. If, as Galrahn predicts, GAO this year concludes Zumwalt is a cost winner over the restarted and Flight III Arleigh Burkes, it could look like a bargain for the first time in its life. And that, in a Congress hungry for "savings" and in which Bath already does well, could at very least improve the chances of its survival, if not the addition of a few other hulls.

 

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