The Navy’s next-generation guided-missile destroyer may end up packing a futuristic arsenal consisting of both laser weapons and hypersonic missiles, service officials recently stated.
Speaking at the virtual Surface Navy Association conference on Tuesday, Rear Adm. Paul Schlise said the service needs a ship that “can generate enough power to drive more sophisticated radars, electronic warfare systems and directed energy weapons” in order to keep up with developments in Russian and Chinese missile technology, according to Defense One.
“We look to large and energetic hypersonic missiles to remind those adversaries that no target is out of range, at least not for long,” Schlise added. “We need to ship to achieve these goals.”
The new vessel, dubbed the DDG-X and previously known as the DDG-Next and the Large Surface Combatant, is intended to replace the Navy’s existing fleet of 22 aging Ticonderoga-class Aegis cruisers, which will reach the end of their projected service lives within the next 17 years, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
The future DDG-X will feature a brand new hull design coupled with, initially, a combat system “similar to that installed on the Flight III version” of the Navy’s existing Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, the report said.
While Navy officials have increasingly. expressed concerns that the Arleigh Burke-class lacks the power generation capabilities and electrical systems necessary to effectively field futuristic directed-energy weapons, the service plans to solve the issues from the hull up.
“We are looking at a new hull form with a new propulsion plant and the ability to incorporate…an integrated power system that has the ability to power up the weapons and sensors of the future,” Schlise said on Tuesday. “I think the integrated power system is the key to the realm here.”
Indeed the DDG-X “will give us considerable upgrades from the addition of larger, more dynamic missiles that will hold targets at risk at longer ranges,” Vice Adm. James Kilby, deputy chief of naval operations for warfighting requirements and capabilities, said during the same conference.
The Navy’s fiscal year 2021 budget request included $46.5 million in research and development funding as the service seeks to procure its first DDG-X hull sometime around fiscal year 2028, just after the service stops procuring new Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
It remains unclear exactly how many hulls the service will end up procuring. The CRS report suggests the total DDG-X fleet size could range from anywhere between 8-11 (roughly one to accompany each U.S. aircraft carrier) and 22 for a one-to-one replacement of the Ticonderoga-class hulls.
While the prospect of the Navy slapping futuristic weapons on a warship is alluring, previous efforts to field next-generation surface combatants with novel weaponry have been disappointing for the service in recent years.
Look no further than the USS Zumwalt: Originally called “the largest and most technologically advanced surface combatant in the world,” the vessel was long plagued by cost overruns and technical issues, while the cost of its unique GPS-guided Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) shells skyrocketed from $50,000 to $566,000 apiece, prompting the Navy to reduce its Zumwalt-class destroyer buy from 28 hulls to just three.
According to the CRS report, current estimates peg the cost of each DDG-X hull at around $2.5 billion apiece. Only time will tell if those funds end up being a sound investment or disappearing into another money pit like the Zumwalt.