The U.S. Navy’s Large Surface Combatant (LSC) force consists of three destroyers: DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers that are still in production with Flight III version upgrades just starting, stealthy DDG 1000 Zumwalt destroyers in which production stopped at three ships, and the upcoming next-generation destroyer program called DDG(X) that is still in the design stage
Due to COVID-19 impacting the shipbuilding industrial base, the quantity, schedule, and funding for these destroyers have fluctuated in the years that the pandemic has affected the world.
On March 3, 2022, the Congressional Research Service’s (CRS) Report prepared for members of Congress stated the progress of the DDG 51 Flight III destroyers and the transition to the DDG(X) next-generation destroyers. With the Continuing Resolution federal fiscal budget extensions, the U.S. Navy’s force level LSC goal seems to change due to the lack of a long-term Fiscal Year shipbuilding budget.
The U.S. Navy’s Large Surface Combatant Fleet
The U.S. Navy is in a quest to reduce risk and cut costs and yet leverage a level of commonality across its surface warfare fleet. Through the Integrated Warfare Systems Department, the U.S. Navy aims to scale up or down existing sensor systems (DDG 51 Mod to 2.0) to increase commonality and technological maturity and reduce technological risks, costs, and a repeat of what happened with the highly complex and over budget Ford-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and the stealthy Zumwalt-class destroyers that had new immature cutting-edge technologies that ballooned into cost-overruns with faulty systems.
As destroyers and destroyer designs age, they require upgrades to make them effective against current and future threats, and this produced the DDG 51 Flight III version (see top graphic), leveraging the lessons learned from decades of DDG 51 fleet service.
From the CRS Report…
“A February 2, 2022, press report states:
The Navy is committed to buying two Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers per year in tandem with developing its new DDG(X) program, the top surface warfare requirements officer said Wednesday [February 2].
“My next priority is related to the first and that is to budget for and build two large surface combatants a year, at a minimum. Two ships a year with a 35 to 40-year service life results in an objective force of 70 to 80 large surface combatants in our navy,’ Rear Adm. Paul Schlise said during a speech at a symposium hosted by the American Society of Naval Engineers. `As N96, I will continue to make the case for our surface shipbuilding priorities to include two large surface combatants a year,’ Schlise said today. `And we need to transition from Flight IIIs to DDG(X).’” Schlise’s remarks come ahead of the Fiscal Year 2023 budget submission, which is expected to include another multi-year procurement plan for the Navy’s Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
Transition to the DDG(X) Program
The CRS Report said, “The Navy’s FY2020 budget submission and FY2020 30-year shipbuilding plan projected DDG-51s being procured during the period FY2022-FY2025 in annual quantities of 2-3-3-2, with FY2025 being the final year of DDG-51 procurement and the year that the first DDG(X) would be procured.
“December 9, 2020, long-range Navy shipbuilding document projected DDG-51s being procured during the period FY2022-FY2026 in annual quantities of 2-2-2-2-2. The document did not specify the final year of DDG-51 procurement, but press reports have suggested that the Navy wants to procure the first DDG(X) around FY2028.
“The Navy’s FY2021 budget submission projected DDG-51s being procured during the period FY2022-FY2025 in annual quantities of 2-1-2-1, and for DDG-51 procurement to end with the procurement of two final ships that would be procured in either FY2026 (both ships) or FY2026 and FY2027 (one ship each year). Under this budget submission, DDG(X) procurement might begin around FY2028.”
The Department of the US Navy’s Fiscal Year 2023 Budget released on March 28, 2022 outlines the ships planned for the coming year and the US Navy intends to build nine battle force ships, two of them DDG 51s, potentially setting the ratio of DDG 51 builds per future years in the CRS Report from FY2023 onwards although that hasn’t been solidly determined.
From the FY2023 US Navy Budget:
· Provides for a deployable battle force of 285 ships in FY 2023.
· Procures 9 battle force ships in FY 2023 (2 SSN 774, 2 DDG 51, 1 FFG, 1 LHA-6, 1 LPD-17, 1 T-AO 205, and 1 T-ATS-6) and 51 over the FYDP. Funds 4 other construction efforts (2 LCAC SLEPS and 2 ship-to-shore connectors).
· Aircraft procurement funds 96 fixed-wing, rotary-wing, and unmanned aircraft in FY 2023 (13 F-35C, 15 F-35B, 5 E-2D, 10 METS, 5 KC-130J, 10 CH-53K, 26 TH-73A, 3 MQ-4C, 4 MQ-25, 5 MQ-9A) and 420 over the FYDP.