During Donald Trump’s campaign for the White House, he often touted the idea of expanding America’s Navy to 355 ships, a significant increase over the 280 or so active vessels currently in service. Soon, however, the economics involved in such a large-scale expansion began to get in the way. While America was going to see an increase in ships in service in the coming years, that increase was going to be offset by older ships aging out of service soon thereafter, making the 355-ship goal all but impossible under current spending projections.
Now, however, it seems that 355-ship goal is not only back on the table, the U.S. Navy believes it can actually hit that mark as quickly as 2034, which is decades sooner than some previous projections suggested. The massive American fleet would reach that figure by adding a whopping 30 new DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers, 15 more littoral combat ships, 18 new frigates and 32 new attack submarines. If the Navy gets its way, these vessels would not only help America’s defense apparatus reach its fleet-size goals, but will also dramatically expand America’s combat capabilities in waterways the world over.
Included among those 30 new destroyers will be 22 Flight III iterations on the DDG 51 design. The Navy already has a deal in place for the production of ten of these advanced warships, with one currently under construction. While these new destroyers may look quite a bit like their Arleigh Burke-class predecessors, the tech housed within their grey hulls sets them apart from even China’s advanced Type 055 destroyers that many contend are an even match for America’s ships.
A number of new systems have been integrated into the Flight III destroyer design, but it’s really the execution of that integration that sets these ships apart. The idea is not only to field next generation war-fighting tech, but to do so in a manner that allows for more rapid and largely modular updates, upgrades, and changes to the ship’s overall capabilities.
These destroyers will be equipped with far greater power production capabilities than their predecessors – and even greater than they currently need – in order to support directed-energy weapons like lasers in the near future. The new Aegis Baseline 10 radar and fire control system will allow for the integration of air-warfare and ballistic missile defense systems that can locate and discern between multiple inbound targets. This will allow the ship to spot potential threats as small as drones and as large as anti-ship missiles and aircraft from further distances and with greater accuracy, giving these vessels the best possible opportunity to survive in contested waters during the era of long-range shore defenses.
The new radar system, Raytheon’s AN/SPY-6(V), is said to be 35 times more powerful than the systems fielded on previous vessels, which will give each ship the ability to spot threats half as large from twice as far away compared to existing destroyers. It will also allow for supplemental data to be relayed via aircraft to expand the ship’s “line of sight,” giving it what could be seen as an unprecedented view of the battle space for such a vessel.
Most importantly, these systems were designed to be quickly and easily updated. Thanks to over-engineered hardware throughout elements of the ship’s design, these platforms will likely be able to adopt new combat capabilities through the integration of small modular hardware changes and rapid software updating. Just like the F-35, which uses updates to frequently add new capabilities to the existing hardware, these destroyers will be able to keep learning new tricks long after they start to look like old dogs.
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