Shipboard electronics steams into the 21st century

March 25, 2020
U.S. Navy is on track for increases in surface ship and submarine building, unmanned vehicles development, shipboard weapons, sensors, and digital signal processing.

By Edward J. Walsh

NASHUA, N.H. - The U.S. Navy surface warship fleet in 2019 achieved important strides in shipbuilding and fielding new weapons. In late June, the Naval Sea Systems Command’s (NAVSEA) Electric Ships program office released a Naval Power and Energy Systems Technology Development Roadmap, or NPES-TDR — a path to new enabling technologies for exotic new shipboard weapons and sensors.

In releasing the TDR, NAVSEA Commander Vice Adm. Thomas Moore said, “Ensuring maritime superiority requires a ready and capable fleet, and fundamental to fleet capability is the electric power behind the fleet. This roadmap aligns electric power and energy system development with increasing warfighter power needs.”


The Navy continues to peg the 12-vessel Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBN-826) as its top priority. The Navy plans to fund the first ship next year.

For 2020 the Navy asked to build 12 new ships: one Ford-class aircraft carrier; three Virginia-class attack submarines, three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, an FFG(X) new frigate, two Lewis-class fleet replenishment oilers, and two salvage and rescue ships.

The five-year shipbuilding plan for 2020 through 2024 calls for 55 new ships, or 11 per year. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports that the 30-year shipbuilding plan, if carried out, would build 304 ships, achieving in 2034 the Navy’s 355-ship goal set by a 2016 force structure assessment (FSA). This would happen partly by extending the services lives of Burke-class destroyers to 45 years.

Congressional researchers note that a new “integrated” shipbuilding assessment that will reflect closer integration of Navy and Marine Corps requirements dramatically may change the mix of ships in the fleet. Shipbuilding plans will include fewer and larger ships, like cruisers and destroyers, and add smaller ones like the littoral combat ship (LCS) and FFG(X) and more unmanned vehicles.

The Navy is working on requirements for a large unmanned surface ship (LUSV) that could be fitted with the sensors and weapons now on manned ships, including a vertical launch missile system.

In the name of cost-cutting the new shipbuilding assessment also reduces the requirement for amphibious ships from 38 to
32 with concurrence of Marine Commandant General David Berger, a step that has angered some Marines.

Both CRS and the Congressional Budget Office expressed skepticism that the Navy would get the money needed. Navy leaders acknowledge they’re in a hard place.

In a January speech, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said bluntly that “we need more money. More topline. We’ll get to 355, plus 10, if we get the dough.”

Yet he added that he’s “committed to increasing fleet lethality. That comes at a high price, that could be a reduction in growth. We have to sustain the Navy we have today.”

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly in an interview in January said that 355 ships is a 30 percent increase over the 275-ship fleet at the time of President Trump’s inauguration. “But we’re not going to get a 30 percent larger budget.”

Littoral combat ship

Shipbuilders Fincantieri Marinette Marine and Austal USA continued to build littoral combat ships. Fincantieri is teamed with Lockheed Martin for the Freedom LCS variant (odd hull numbers). Austal, teamed with General Dynamics, builds the even-hull-numbered Independence variant to a trimaran design. Freedom ships are 388 feet long and displace 3,450 tons fully loaded. The Independence variants are 421 feet long and displace 3,200 tons.

In October the Navy commissioned the USS Indianapolis (LCS-17), the ninth Freedom variant. In December the USS St.
Louis (LCS-19) finished an acceptance trial, anticipating delivery this spring. Seven Freedom-class ships are under construction at Fincantieri’s Marinette, Wis., shipyard.

Austal’s Mobile, Ala., yard is building four Independence-class ships. Kansas City (LCS-22) completed acceptance trials in October.

The shipyards delivered three LCSs to the Navy in 2019, and five more will be delivered this year. At year end 2019 the Navy had bought 35 LCSs, and 19 have been delivered.

The companies also expect to market LCS designs internationally. In late October the Navy and Fincantieri held a “cut steel” event marking the start of construction of the first of four multi-mission surface combatants, based on the Freedom-class design, for Saudi Arabia.

Responding to criticism that the LCSs are too lightly armed, the Navy established the FFG(X future frigate program, intended as a more lethal open-ocean type of warship. The Navy wants to build 20 new frigates, with a contract to build the first 10 sometime this summer, and a second contract in 2025 for 10 more.

Four companies are developing FFG(X) designs: Fincantieri, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works/Navantia, Huntington Ingalls Industries), and Austal USA.

The ships will be armed with the Mk 41 vertical launch system (VLS) capable of launching the evolved Seasparrow (ESSM) and SM-2 block 3C air-defense missiles. They also will get the SQQ-89(v) sonar and SQS-62 variable depth sonar for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and the enterprise air-surveillance radar or EASR, a smaller version of Raytheon’s SPY-6(v)1 air and missile defense radar (AMDR).

Burke-class destroyers

The bedrock Navy shipbuilding program remains the completion of Flight IIA of Burke destroyers and the start of the much-publicized Flight III, with its transformational advances for combat and ship-management architectures. A total of 13 Flight III ships are under contract through 2022, six at Huntington Ingalls and five with one option at Bath. In November the Navy and Huntington authenticated the keel of the first Flight III ship, Jack H. Lucas (DDG 125).

The centerpiece of Flight III is the SPY-6(v)1, a high-powered electronically scanning air-search radar managed by Baseline 10 of the Aegis combat system for integrated air-missile defense, ballistic missile defense (BMD), surface warfare (SUW), and ASW. The system succeeds Lockheed Martin’s SPY-1(v), fielded in several versions on all the Burkes and the Ticonderoga (CG-47)-class cruisers.

Huntington also is building Flight IIA ships Delbert D. Black (DDG 119), Frank E. Petersen Jr. (DDG 121), and Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123). In August, Paul Ignatius (DDG 117), an Huntington Ingalls ship, was commissioned at Port Everglades, Fla.

The first Flight III ship built at Bath will be Louis H. Wilson (DDG 126). Bath is building Flight IIA ships Daniel Inouye (DDG 118), Carl M. Levin (DDG 120), John Basilone (DDG 122), Harvey C. Barnum (DDG 124), and Patrick Gallagher (DDG 127). Bath christened the third and final Zumwalt-class (DDG 1000) destroyer, Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG 1002) in April. Zumwalt and Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001) already are in fleet testing.

Huntington also is building the 12th and 13th San Antonio-class (LPD-17) amphibious assault ships Fort Lauderdale and Richard M. McCool Jr. (LPDs-28 and -29). McCool will be the last ship of the Flight 1 San Antonio design. The ships carry 720 Marines and amphibious assault craft or landing craft air-cushion for amphibious operations. San Antonio Flight II will start with LPD-30 to replace the LSD-41 and -49 amphib classes.

Amphibious assault ships

Huntington Ingalls also is building Bougainville (LHA-8) the third ship of the America (LHA-6) class. Tripoli (LHA-7) completed builder’s trials last summer. The 45,000-ton America-class ships are built with a large hangar deck, aviation support facility, and increased aviation fuel storage. Bougainville will be the first Flight I ship of the class, adding expeditionary warfare capability.

The LHAs are powered by a hybrid propulsion system that combines a gas turbine propulsion plant and auxiliary electric motors — a system introduced with Makin Island (LHD-8), the last ship of the Wasp big-deck amphib class; the first seven Wasp ships use diesels.

In another Marine Corps-oriented program, expeditionary sea base Miguel Keith (ESB-5) completed trials last fall. The ESBs will provide sustainment for ashore tactical operations, humanitarian missions, and MCM operations.

The first two ships, USNS Montford Point (ESD-1) and USNS John Glenn (ESD-2), are Military Sealift Command ships, called expeditionary transfer docks. The third ship, Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3) and following ships are commissioned Navy (USS) ships. The 784-foot-long ships are built with a 52,000-square-foot flight deck to support V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and helicopters.

General Dynamics NASSCO is under contract for design and construction of ESBs -6 and -7, with an option for ESB-8.


In a huge move, the Navy awarded a $22.2 billion multiyear (2019-2023) contract, called Block V, to General Dynamics Electric Boat for eight Virginia-class (SSN-774) attack submarines, with an option for a ninth. Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding acts as major subcontractor. The subs will be outfitted with the new Virginia payload module or VPM, which adds four missile tubes, each capable of launching seven Tomahawk cruise missiles, increasing the strike capacity from 12 to 40 missiles.

The Navy has fielded 18 Virginia-class boats. The first Block V sub is scheduled for delivery in 2025.

In October the Navy took delivery of Delaware (SSN-791), the eighth and final Block III submarine. Block III boats have a redesigned bow that replaces 12 individual vertical-launch tubes with two larger diameter Virginia payload tubes, each capable of firing six Tomahawks.

Shipboard weapons

The surface fleet achieved critical technology advances for the Aegis combat system, both for the Flight IIA Burkes and Aegis Ashore sites in Romania, Poland, and Japan. In November the Navy changed the nomenclature for the Aegis radar from SPY-1(v) to SPY-7(v). The Romania and Poland sites now are operational. Japan will have two Aegis Ashore sites.

The Aegis baseline programs used by the U.S., Australian, South Korean, Norwegian, and Spanish navies and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force are maintained in a common source library (CSL) owned by the Navy and maintained by Lockheed Martin. The CSL is a repository for fielded Aegis programs, including baseline 9, the newest BMD program. Ships now using older baselines could be upgraded through the CSL. The combat systems used by the LCSs and Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter also use programs maintained in the CSL.

Late last year, the Navy selected Lockheed Martin as the combat systems engineering agent (CSEA) for the ship self-defense system (SDDS) aboard aircraft carriers and large-deck amphibious ships. Jim Sheridan, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for naval combat and missile defense systems, says the company will deliver the first major program, called ACB 20, in July (advanced capability build—the number refers to the year of development).

The ship self-defense system combat system will integrate variants of the SPY-6(v), which in its (v)1 baseline version will go aboard the Flight III Burkes. The San Antonio-class LPDs will get (v)2. Carriers will get (v)3. SPY-6(v)4 will be backfit to the Flight IIA Burkes, and (v)5 will go aboard the new FFG(X) frigates.

In late December NAVSEA awarded Lockheed Martin a $138 million contract modification for continued systems engineering for the latest ACB for the Aegis system (called ACB 20 but distinct from the SSDS ACB). The Aegis ACB 20/Baseline 10 software will incorporate the SPY-6(v)1, the ESSM anti-air missile, and SM-6 anti-air and anti-surface missile. The SM-6 also will be able to destroy ballistic missiles in the terminal phase.

The fielding of ACB 20/Baseline 10 is the starting point in the Navy’s plan to shift to a Surface Combatant Combat Systems Engineering Agent (SCCSEA) for all surface combatants, carriers, and amphibs. In mid-2019, following its win on the SSDS combat system, Lockheed Martin won a one-year $7 million award, with nine option years, to act as CSEA for the FFG(X), giving it the CSEA role for all major surface combatants. The Navy plans to award a series of contracts for the SCCSEA role.

The full Aegis modernization program, commenced in 2010, continues with delivery of ACB-12 to Flight IIA Burkes, providing Aegis Baseline 9.C1 for enhanced BMD. Eventually all Burkes up through Flight IIA will be fitted out with a multi-mission signal processor, Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air or NIFC-CA, Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), ESSM, and other upgrades.

Aegis modernization

Aegis modernization (AMOD) extends to 11 Ticonderoga cruisers. In October Hue City (CG-66) became the seventh cruiser inducted into the modernization program of 11 ships. BAE Systems has won several of the modernization contracts. The program adds new BMD capability and hull, mechanical, and electrical systems. The Navy’s 2020 budget proposes decommissioning six older cruisers by 2022.

In December Raytheon Missile Systems won a $1 million multiyear contract (2019-2023) for full-rate production of the SM-6, including all-up rounds, flight-test rounds, and spares.

Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems is working on a $123.5 million award for 2020 production of Aegis fire-control system components for the Burke Flight III design and the Spanish navy’s F-110 Aegis ships. The award includes several upgrades for AAW and BMD capabilities. Raytheon units are supporting the AMOD with continuing work on the SPY-6(v), SM-6, SM-2, ESSM, and Tomahawk, the Navy’s principal long-range land-attack cruise missile.

CEC blends the sensor tracks of several ships, aircraft, and the Marine Corps’ composite tracking network to produce a consolidated track picture for highly integrated fire control. CEC goes aboard Aegis ships, San Antonio- and Wasp-class amphibs, and carriers. DRS Laurel Technologies, a unit of Leonardo DRS in Johnstown, Pa., is performing engineering modifications for CEC.

Ultra Electronics Ocean Systems, Braintree, Mass., won a NAVSEA contract for production of spares and engineering services for the Mk 54 mod 0 lightweight torpedo, which is launched from surface ships, fixed-wing aircraft, and helicopters to target submarines. The award also is for torpedoes for the Canadian, Norwegian, and Netherlands navies.

To beef up LCS surface warfare capability, the Navy in June 2018 awarded Raytheon and Norway’s Kongsberg a $14.8 million contract for the Mk 87 Mod 0 over-the-horizon naval strike missile (NSM) for both LCS variants. As systems integrator for the Independence ships, General Dynamics Mission Systems test-launched the missile off Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) last summer. The FFG(X) also will get the Mod 87 missile.

Both variants accommodate mission packages configured for SUW, ASW, and mine countermeasures (MCM) that could be on- and offloaded based on assigned missions. Northrop Grumman is managing development of the mission packages.

Among the key SUW package systems are a Mk 50 30-millimeter gun, Hellfire missile, and two 11-meter RIB boats. In August 2019 NAVSEA award Northrop Grumman a $9.4 million contract for production of the LCS Surface-to-Surface Missile Module

The MCM package includes an airborne laser mine detection system (ALMDS) built by Northrop Grumman and the Raytheon AQS-20 sonar. Both systems are operated from MH-60S helicopters, and both have achieved initial operating capability.

Northrop Grumman has offered its own candidate, the AQS-24C sonar fitted with a laser and volume search sonar, that
rides in an unmanned vehicle built by Textron. The company delivered two ‘24C kits in 2016, and will deliver ten more this year.

The MCM package also includes an underwater influence sweep system and a surface mine countermeasure unmanned undersea vehicle called Knifefish, which searches for bottom and buried mines in high-clutter waters. For the ASW package the Navy will field a dipping sonar and sonobuoys, which will be deployed from the MH-60 helicopter.

The SUW package is in service and has deployed on three ships for Western Pacific operations. the MCM module will reach initial operational capability in 2021. The ASW package is still in development. The Navy plans to buy 44 mission packages: 10 SUW and 10 ASW packages and 24 MCM packages.

Unmanned Systems

The LCS program is a primary Navy target for new unmanned systems for all three mission packages. In October the Program Executive Office for Unmanned and Small Combatants and the Mission Modules program office demonstrated a prototype system called GARC/TALONS (Greenough Advanced Rescue Craft and Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems), an advanced communications system. The program office said the system, which could reduce the time needed to clear minefields, went from concept to at-sea test in ten months.

The Navy awarded several key contracts in August for unmanned systems work. For the MCM package, General Dynamics Missions Systems won a $44.5 million NAVSEA award for low-rate initial production of test systems for the Knifefish UUV.

Raytheon won an $8 million sole-source award for engineering for towed systems for the LCS escort mission module and associated shipboard components to support the LCS ASW package. The company also received an $11.7 million delivery order for “deploy and retrieve” systems for the AQS-20 sonar.

The Navy last year released a request for proposals for a medium unmanned surface vehicle (MUSV) and for the LUSV. The MUSV will be a pier-launched, self-deploying and self-navigation. A contract award is planned early this year.

The Navy says the LUSV will be a “high-endurance, reconfigurable ship able to accommodate various payloads for unmanned missions,” either independent of or with manned ships and potentially be fitted out with advanced sensors and missile launch tubes. Two developmental LUSVs built for the program would be 200 or 300 feet long, the Navy says, and displace 2,000 tons.

The Navy also pushed forward on its major unmanned airborne systems, with Naval Air Systems Command awards to Northrop Grumman for the MQ-8C Fire Scout and MQ-4C Triton UAVs. The Fire Scout will operate from the LCSs. The company won a $9.1 million delivery order for production and delivery of eight kits for modifying the Fire Scout radar. The Navy in mid-2019 declared Fire Scout ready for operational service aboard the LCSs as long-range sensor platforms. The Navy plans to buy 38 of the helicopter-look-alike Fire Scouts for use for intelligence-gathering, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting.

The company also received an $18.2 million contract modification for the Triton long-range, long-endurance UAV. The Triton will conduct reconnaissance, collecting high-resolution imagery and video, from altitudes to 55,000 feet and stay aloft up to 24 hours. The Navy expects to buy 68 aircraft.

Power technologies

The mid-2019 release of the Naval Power and Energy Systems Technology Development Roadmap is a culmination of years of Navy efforts to move toward more efficient and affordable power generation, now made more urgent by new power-intensive systems.

Stephen P. Markle, director and program manager of the Electric Ships office, says the roadmap “conveys the guide for an evolutionary strategy to meet the challenges of revolutionary weapon and sensor systems.”

The Navy surface community has worked for years to develop an integrated electric drive architecture that would blend the generation and distribution of propulsion and “ship-service” power. General Electric, Leonardo DRS, and L3 now are in the forefront of these efforts, mostly managed by the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Philadelphia Division.

In a key advance, the America (LHA-6) class ships are powered by a hybrid propulsion system combining gas turbine engines and auxiliary electric propulsion motors, the system introduced aboard Makin Island (LHD-8).

The three Zumwalt destroyers are fitted out with an “integrated fight-through power system,” using four Rolls Royce gas turbines to provide power to a General Electric Converteam advanced induction motor.

The Navy says the TDR responds to the critical need for order-of-magnitude increase in shipboard power for new sensor and weapons, among them the SPY-6(v) and lasers and electronic rail guns now being tested.

The Electric Ships program office says its roadmap defines power and energy (P&E) as the “foundation of the kill chain.” It identifies power systems and technologies to support the future sensor and weapons. The roadmap then maps a strategy for modernizing P&E systems to “improve faster” and increase force projection affordably.

The document says “Ships perform a range of functions from basic mobility to putting kinetic or electromagnetic energy on a target. … An integrated energy system involves converting energy to the electric weapon or sensor’s needs. The vision of integrated P&E systems carries this further, with the end-goal of linking all energy consumers with all energy sources in a single electrical network.”

The TDR lays out requirements for advanced sensors and weapons; advanced electric propulsion; survivability; unmanned systems; communications and information security and cyber security; flexible ship modularity; and standard modular interfaces. The roadmap then describes critical technologies needed for energy storage, power conversion, prime movers, power distribution controls, and rotating machinery. ?

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