Navy ramping up fleet and technologies to face new threats

Navy boosts shipbuilding programs, as well as ship and submarine technology insertions with new radar systems, embedded computing, digital signal processing, electro-optical sensors, real-time tactical networking, and shipboard communications systems.

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The Navy's fleet of littoral combat ships, built in two variants, will be augmented by a new more heavily armed class of 20 frigates. This photo shows the LCS trimarin variant Coronado (LCS 4) in the Gulf of Thailand last summer.

Navy boosts shipbuilding programs, as well as ship and submarine technology insertions with new radar systems, embedded computing, digital signal processing, electro-optical sensors, real-time tactical networking, and shipboard communications systems.

By Edward J. Walsh

U.S. Navy leaders spent much of 2017 campaigning for their plan for dramatic increases in the size of the surface ship and submarine fleet to 355 vessels - the number endorsed by its Force Structure Assessment of 2016 as a minimum necessary to meet a range of emerging threats worldwide. The Navy today has about 280 ships.

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson, in a mid-year white paper, entitled "The Future Navy," warned that "a 355-ship Navy using current technology is insufficient for maintaining maritime superiority... We must also implement new ways of operating our battle fleet, which will comprise new types of ships."

Operationally, the surface Navy continued to push hard to implement its "Distributed Lethality" vision, pioneered by Surface Forces Commander Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden. The Rowden mantra, "if it floats, it fights," calls for finding innovative ways to pack more offensive firepower onto surface ships.

The Navy achieved decisive progress during the year in shipbuilding and in developing and fielding new weapon, sensor, command and control, and shipboard power systems.

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The Lockheed Martin Aegis combat system is being upgraded for Navy destroyers and cruisers with updated computers and networking, as well as a new radar system from Raytheon.

Meanwhile, in a tumultuous year for U.S. foreign and defense policy, independent analyses from the Navy, U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), and independent organizations focused on growing security threats, dominated by the risk of nuclear attack by North Korea on South Korea, Japan, or even the U.S. mainland.

In year-end comments, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen said he believes the U.S. is closer to nuclear war with North Korea than ever before. Policy makers and defense experts discussed scenarios for conventional conflict on the Korean peninsula.

U.S. strategy for those contingencies assumes a major role for the Navy's so-called large surface combatants - Arleigh Burke-class (DDG 51) destroyers and Ticonderoga-class (CG 47) cruisers. Those ships, capable of launching long-range Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles, also would provide a critical component of U.S. ballistic missile defense.

The 355-ship goal includes a force of 104 cruisers and destroyers, up from 88 for the previous 308-ship target.

The Navy's top priority remains construction of the future strategic ballistic missile submarine USS Columbia (SSBN X), the first in a new class of nuclear missile submarines that will replace the long-deployed Ohio class. Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer called Columbia "the most important acquisition program the Navy has today," and Navy leaders expect the new undersea vessel to enter service in 2030.

Strength of U.S. adversaries

Richardson's white paper warned of the increasing military strength of Russia and China, as well as Iran. "Both Russia and China can compete on a global scale, in all domains, and at competitive speed," adding that "they both possess considerable space, cyber, and nuclear forces."

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The Russian navy continues to add new ships to its surface fleet, such as the Russian cruiser Admiral Panteleyev shown arriving at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The CNO wrote that China's goals are reflected in its shipbuilding efforts which, analysts say, are proceeding at a "frenetic pace." He points out that China has built three ballistic missile submarines since 2009, and last year commissioned 18 new ships.

He notes that the Russian navy has continued to build modern frigates and corvettes, and expanded its operations in the Baltic, Black, Mediterranean, and Caspian seas, adding that Russia in 2017 launched its second Yasen-class nuclear attack submarine - "the latest step in a plan to recapitalize its submarine force."

Richardson also writes that Iran's "growing naval forces routinely exhibit provocative behavior in the Straits of Hormuz, Arabian Gulf, and beyond. The Iranians' support to proxies throughout the Middle East shows no signs of lessening."

Future frigate and LCS

In a December study of Navy shipbuilding, the Congressional Research Service said that meeting the 355-ship goal would require building 47 ships above the previous force-level goal of 308 ships. The Navy's 2018 budget requested funding for nine new ships. The CRS estimated that the Navy would have to add 57 to 67 ships to Navy's 2017 30-year shipbuilding plan to maintain that number for the full 30 years. Maintaining that level for 10 years longer, out to 2057, would require building 73 to 77 ships.

The fiscal 2019 proposed Navy shipbuilding budget calls for funding two new Virginia-class fast attack submarines for $7.4 billion; three Arleigh Burke-class missile destroyers for $6 billion; one littoral combat ship for $1.3 billion; one Ford-class aircraft carrier for $1.8 billion; two fleet replenishment oiler ships for $1.1 billion; and one expeditionary sea base for $700 million.

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The Navy is nearing completion of its versatile San Antonio class of amphibious warfare ships, such as the USS Portland (LPD 27), shown underway during sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico last summer.

The industry teams building the two variants of the littoral combat ship (LCS) - Lockheed Martin and Fincantieri Marinette Marine for Freedom LCS 1 vessel, and Austal USA and General Dynamics for the Independence LCS 2 vessel - delivered three ships in 2017, for a total of 11 with 18 more under construction, in pre-construction phases, and under contract. In December, the Navy commissioned the newest ship, USS Little Rock (LCS 9) in Buffalo, N.Y.

The Freedom variant is built on a traditional semi-planing monohull, displacing about 3,500 tons fully loaded. The Freedom ships are assigned odd numbers. The Independence variant is a "trimaran," displacing roughly 3,200 tons; the ships have even hull numbers. Both variants are capable of a top speed of 40-plus knots.

The LCSs are designed to conduct surface and anti-submarine warfare and mine countermeasures by means of separate mission packages configured for each warfare area.

In a statement released late last year, the Program Executive Office for LCS said the Navy is committed to a force of 52 small surface combatants consisting of LCSs and a new multimission frigate called FFG(X). The Navy plans to award a contract for FFG(X) concept design this spring, and a construction contract in 2020 for a fleet of 20 ships, which would replace the Navy's now-retired Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates.

Navy officials say they will consider any hull form - foreign and domestic - that meets their requirements. The ships will be built in U.S. shipyards. The Navy will specify the mix of combat systems, "to maximize capability, interoperability, and commonality, and reduce development, integration, and future modernization costs."

The Navy released a request for information, or RFI, from industry for the FFG(X) in early July, looking for concepts on how to incorporate missile launch systems that could handle the evolved Seasparrow and SM-2 Standard air-defense missiles.

The RFI says the ship will rely heavily on unmanned systems for gathering intelligence, and identifies required systems, among them the COMBATSS-21 combat system now aboard the Freedom LCS variants, a vertical launch system, SeaRAM Mk 15 anti-ship missile, SLQ-32(v)6 electronic warfare system, SQQ-89F undersea warfare system, and the Mk 110 57-millimeter gun.

Both LCS teams are competing for the frigate program. Fincantieri and Lockheed are offering a design for a frigate called FREMM (roughly, Frigate European Multi-Mission). Fincantieri has built six for the Italian navy and four for the French navy. Fincantieri will act as prime for the team for the FFG(X), whereas Lockheed is prime for LCS.

Austal and General Dynamics Mission Systems are proposing a modified trimaran similar in length and beam to the Independence LCS, but with a shorter helicopter deck.

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The Navy is building Zumwalt-class destroyers, such as the lead ship USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) shown arriving in San Diego last December.

Burke-class destroyers

In late June the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) awarded a long-awaited contract for construction of the destroyer Jack H. Lucas (DDG 125), the first "Flight III" Burke-class destroyer, to Huntington Ingalls Industries. The Flight III ships will be equipped with the SPY-6 air missile defense radar (AMDR), built by Raytheon for tracking and targeting ballistic missiles.

The SPY-6 award to Raytheon in October 2013 broke the long run of wins for Lockheed Martin for the SPY series of radars for the Burke-class destroyers and Ticonderoga-class cruisers.

In late September, the Navy awarded a second Flight III contract, for DDG 126, to General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, along with a contract for construction of DDG 127, funded in 2016 as the final Flight IIA ship. Both ships are planned for completion in 2024.

Shipbuilders continue to stamp-out new Flight IIA Burkes. In September, Huntington Ingalls launched Delbert D. Black (DDG 119). In mid-November, the yard delivered the 64th ship of the class, Ralph Johnson (DDG 114) to the Navy and laid the keel for Lenah H. Sutcliffee Higbee (DDG 123). Huntington also is building Paul Ignatius (DDG 117), and Frank E. Petersen Jr (DDG 121).

General Dynamics Bath delivered Rafael Peralta (DDG 115) and is building Thomas Hudner (DDG 116), Daniel Inouye (DDG 118), and Carl M. Levin (DDG 120). The Navy also has authorized funding for construction at Bath of John Basilione (DDG 122) and Harvey C. Barnum (DDG 124).

Bath also laid the keel in early 2017 for Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG 1002) the third of a new class of three Zumwalt-class (DDG 1000) land-attack destroyers. Zumwalt commissioned last October and is going through post-delivery testing in San Diego, aiming at initial operation in 2020. Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001) is nearly complete and set for delivery this month. Johnson is completing hull integration and will go in the water in early 2019.

Meanwhile, NAVSEA took steps to repair John S. McCain (DDG 56) and Fitzgerald (DDG 62), which were severely damaged in collisions with commercial ships - Fitzgerald in June about 90 miles south of Tokyo, and McCain in late August in the Singapore Straits. Seven sailors were lost in the Fitzgerald tragedy, and 10 sailors perished in the McCain collision. McCain was transported to Yokosuka, Japan in late October. Fitzgerald will undergo repairs at the Huntington Ingalls Pascagoula, Miss., yard.

A Navy investigation concluded that both collisions were avoidable and caused by leadership and seamanship failures.

Ticonderoga-class cruisers

The Navy now has 22 Ticonderoga-class cruisers, down from the original 27-ship fleet. In 2004 and 2005, the oldest five ships were taken out of service when the Navy decided that putting them through a comprehensive Aegis modernization program would be too expensive. The first ship of the class launched in 1981, and the last of the class, USS Port Royal (CG 73) launched in 1992, ending Ticonderoga-class cruiser production. The Navy operates no other cruisers than the Ticonderoga class.

Aegis modernization aims at adding new capability for the Aegis combat system with new computer software, provided in advanced process builds (ACBs) that support introduction of Aegis baseline 9, which provides integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) for the CGs and DDGs, and ballistic missile defense (BMD) for the destroyers. Modernization also brings upgrades for air, surface, and undersea warfare systems and new ship machinery and power systems.

The new systems include the cooperative engagement capability (CEC) developed by Raytheon, a SPQ-9B surface search radar built by Northrop Grumman, and a Naval integrated fire control-counter air (NIFC-CA) capability.

The CEC creates a consolidated target-track picture by integrating radar contact data drawn from several ships operating in a network. The system thereby enables all ships participating in the network to view the consolidated track picture for situational awareness and targeting.

In 2014, Congress rejected a Navy request to keep the older 11 of the 22 cruisers in service and put the newer 11 in a reduced operating status for a modernization program, then use them to replace the older 11. Instead, Congress produced a "2/4/6" plan, meaning that two cruisers per year could start modernization for no more than four years, with no more than six in modernization at any time.

Two cruisers, Cowpens and Gettysburg, went into modernization in 2015 and two more ships in 2016, leaving seven still to be modernized. The work included extensive upgrades to the Aegis combat system to give the ships a ballistic-missile-defense capability.

The Navy proposed that instead of another two ships in 2017, all seven go into modernization, in part to provide needed work for the shipyards. According to many reports, Congress didn't trust the Navy to bring those older ships back to the fleet. The House Armed Services Committee report on the 2018 defense authorization act prohibited spending any money to retire or inactivate any cruiser.

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The Northrop Grumman MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter will go aboard the Navy littoral combat ship, as well as other surface combatants, for intelligence-gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting.

Amphibious warfare ships

In addition to progress on the Burkes, Huntington Ingalls laid the keel for Fort Lauderdale (LPD 28), the 12th ship of the San Antonio class of amphibious transport ships. The yard had delivered Portland (LPD 27) to the Navy in September, three months after winning the Navy contract in June for construction of LPD 29, the last ship of the class. The Navy commissioned John P. Murtha (LPD 26), in July.

The new LPDs are 684 feet long and displace about 25,000 tons. The ships are capable of landing Marine assault forces from landing craft launched from the ship's welldeck and from MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft off the flight deck.

In late 2015, the Navy and Marine Corps leadership agreed that the San Antonio design would be the baseline for a new class, the LX(R) to replace the Whidbey Island-class (LSD 41) and Harpers Ferry-class (LSD 49) dock landing ships. The Navy plans to build 13 LX(R)s starting with first funding in 2020.

Three San Antonio-class amphibious transport ships, New York (LPD 21), Arlington (LPD 24), and Somerset (LPD 25) are named to honor the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, with New York's bow cast with steel from the World Trade Center.

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The Raytheon SM-6 air-defense missile has achieved full operational capability, after tests like this one aboard the Navy guided missile cruiser USS Lake Erie (CG 70).

The Navy christened the second America-class landing helicopter
assault ship, Tripoli (LHA 7), at Huntington in September, aiming at delivery later this year. The America class, initially called LHA(R) because they replace five Tarawa-class LHAs, are derivatives of the Wasp-class, with an enlarged hangar deck, greater aviation storage and fuel capacity, and the ability to deliver Marines by MV-22s and helicopters as well as by landing craft. America and Tripoli are designated Flight 0 ships.

In June, NAVSEA awarded Huntington a modification to its contract for detail design and construction of LHA 8, the first Flight 1 LHA(R), with completion set for 2024.

The LHAs are 844 feet long and displace 45,000 tons, and are powered by a hybrid propulsion and power system. The power plant consists of gas turbine engines and an auxiliary power system employing induction motors to power the ship at lower speeds.

The Navy says that when Tripoli joins the fleet, it will be the first LHA(R) to go to sea able to support a Marine Corps aviation component that includes the F-35 joint strike fighter.

Submarines

In September, the Navy took delivery of Colorado (SSN 788), the 15th Virginia-class fast attack submarine, after accepting delivery of the 14th ship of the class, Washington (SSN 787) in May. Colorado is the fifth Block III ship. The Block III upgrade includes a redesigned bow that accommodates a large-aperture passive bow array and new 87-inch Virginia payload tubes capable of launching six Tomahawk cruise missiles. The tubes replace 12 individual vertical-launch tubes.

The Virginia class will introduce a Block IV configuration consisting of design changes for hulls 792 through 801, and in 2019 a Block V, which will add a Virginia payload module of four additional payload tubes, each able to launch seven Tomahawks.

George Drakeley, executive director for Navy Program Executive Office (PEO) Submarines, said in January that the PEO has developed an integrated enterprise plan for the Columbia and Virginia programs, which aims at completing the Columbia design in the same amount of time as Virginia, although Columbia is 2.5 times the size of the Virginia boats.

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The Raytheon SPY-6 air missile defense radar (AMDR) will go aboard Flight III Burke-class destroyers to improve fleet surveillance, aircraft tracking, and ballistic missile defense.

He says the PEO also has introduced a submarine warfare tactical system (SWTS) to accelerate insertion of new computer hardware and software for the sonar, combat system, electronic warfare, and other ship systems for all the Navy's attack boats (SSNs) as well as the Ohio-class ballistic missile "boomers" (SSBNs) and guided-missile subs (SSGNs - four converted Ohio-class ships). SWTS supplants the acoustic rapid COTs insertion (A-RCI) initiative for sonars for the Virginia class.

Ship systems

The surface Navy has achieved key milestones in moving new combat, command and control, and ship machinery systems to the fleet. Key initiatives are the SPY-6 AMDR and advances for the Aegis combat system software for air defense and BMD.

In the first operational test of the AMDR engineering development model (EDM) in March 2017 at the Pacific Missile Range in Hawaii, the EDM detected and tracked a short-range ballistic missile. In late July, the EDM passed a similar tracking test with a medium-range ballistic missile target.

Raytheon uses gallium nitride (GaN) technology for the fabrication of SPY-6 radar module assemblies, which permits higher power density and great power efficiency. In 2013, DOD recognized Raytheon for achieving "Manufacturing Readiness Level 8," the highest possible, for its GaN work.

The air- and missile-defense capability of the Aegis fleet comes from integrating the combat system computer with the SPY radar - SPY-1A for the cruisers and SPY-1D for the Burkes up to the last of the Flight IIA ships. Those ships will receive the Aegis baseline 9 program in several versions. The Flight III Burkes will get baseline 10 and BMD program 6.0 for the SPY-6. Baseline 9 already is aboard several ships, and Lockheed Martin is working on baseline 10.

Enabling technologies for Navy ships and submarines
  • Shipboard power control and conditioning
  • radar
  • radar-control software
  • electro-optical sensors
  • digital signal processing
  • command and control
  • sensor fusion software
  • real-time data networking
  • high-performance embedded computing
  • weapons fire control
  • gallium nitride radar components
  • shipboard communications equipment

Integration of the Raytheon-built radar with the Lockheed Martin-developed combat system is a key challenge for the program. Engineers of both companies have been working the problem at the Hawaii test site. Following the Hawaii test program, the EDM will be shipped to Lockheed Martin's Moorestown N.J., site for more integration work.

In early April, the Navy conducted four launches of the Block 1 Standard SM-6 air defense missile, bringing the SM-6 to full operational capability. In another round of tests in early June at the White Sands Missile Range, N.M., the Block 1A SM-6 demonstrated full-range integration with the Aegis combat system. The Block 1A missile is set to achieve initial operational capability late this year.

In other Aegis-related work, DRS Technologies Canada Ltd. in Kanata, Ontario, will start deliveries this summer of four shipsets of an integrated voice communications system (IVCS) for backfit to Bulkeley (DDG 84) and McCampbell (DDG 85) and for installation during construction of the first two Flight III ships, DDGs 125 and 126. The company says the IVCS is a "hybrid" system consisting of some 400 individual communications devices, including 200 Avaya digital non-secure telephones, loudspeakers, phone jacks, and ruggedized cabinets and mounts that provides a communications network accessible in every ship space. The IVCS is integrated with a mission-critical secure voice system for tactical operations.

Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, which provides the CEC processor and antenna, received a $71 million modification to a Navy contract for 2018 options for CEC design agent services.

Also for the cruisers and destroyers, BAE Systems Land & Armaments won an order from the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Indian Head division for four upgraded Mk 45 mod 4 five-inch/62-caliber gun mounts, enhancing the Mk 45 surface warfare capability with the longer 62-caliber barrel. The gun is capable of firing rounds out to a 20-mile range for surface, anti-air, and Naval surface fire support for units ashore.

General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems of Williston, Vt., won a contract for production options for the Mk 82 missile fire control system and Mk 200 director controller equipment, both of which are key components of the Aegis Mk 99 fire control system.

In October, Northrop Grumman won a Navy award for integration of a new radar into the Fire Scout virtual takeoff unmanned aerial vehicle. The Fire Scout is set for fielding on LCSs and possibly other surface ships for intelligence-gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting.

The Fire Scout C version is fitted with an electro-optical/infrared sensor and will be getting a high-frequency active electronically scanned array radar provided by Leonardo Finemeccanica. The MQ-8C is set for initial operational test and evaluation late this year.

Ship power

The new combat systems, radars, and weapons destined for new ships are heavy consumers of ship-generated electrical power. To find the necessary power, the Navy is seeking new ways to generate, distribute, and manage power for those power-hungry systems.

In April, the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Philadelphia Division awarded an $8.3 million contract to American Superconductor Corp. in Devens, Mass., for engineering support of high-temperature superconducting systems, including high-temperature magnets. The company has done extensive work for the Naval Research Laboratory on superconductor motors that potentially could go aboard surface ships.

Philadelphia Gear Corp. in King of Prussia, Pa., won a $98 million contract last April for three shipsets of main reduction gears for DDGs-125, -126, and -127. The main reduction gears (two per ship, one for each propulsion shaft) transmit power from the main propulsion gas turbine engines to the shafts.

In June, NAVSEA awarded an order to General Electric Power Conversion in Paris to support the Zumwalt-class destroyer high-voltage power system, which consists of an advanced induction motor, motor drive, harmonic filters, and resistors. The system distributes power from the ship's turbine generators to all ship loads, including weapons and propulsion.

In late summer, DRS Systems won a $32.2 million award for support for the Zumwalt integrated power system's low-voltage power system. The Zumwalt's power architecture, called the integrated fight-through power system or IFTPS, is the Navy's biggest step forward towards full-up integrated electric drive power generation for the surface combatant fleet.

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