The Burke Flt III was originally intended to be the
Ticonderoga replacement and mainstay of both the AAW command vessel and the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) role. As such it was intended to receive the new AMDR radar which could handle simultaneous BMD and AAW roles. Unfortunately, it turned out that the optimum sized AMDR required more space, weight, and resources than the Burke could provide. A new design ship was briefly considered but coming hot on the heels of the LCS fiasco, the Navy believed that the challenges in getting a new design approved and funded were too great.
The Navy is now committed to fielding a down-sized AMDR which it acknowledges is too small to meet the desired performance criteria. This is admission of an odd situation. The Navy is, essentially, acknowledging that it is going to build a ship that is inadequate for the intended mission.
The other disturbing aspect of the Flt III is the growth margin. The Navy is going to have to squeeze the AMDR and its attendant resources into an already overloaded hull. The resultant ship will have no growth margins during a future in which the Navy anticipates lasers and rail guns reaching the fleet. We’ll set aside whether that anticipation is realistic and simply consider what the Navy believes. Why would you begin building the future backbone of the fleet with no significant growth margins for the developments you believe are coming in the relatively near term and which you know are going to require substantial weight, volume, and ship’s utilities, especially for the early versions?
Let’s take a quick look at some Flt III options that the Navy could pursue.
New Design – This would undoubtedly be the best approach from a purely technical point of view. However, the Navy has been burned so badly on recent acquisitions that they are gun shy and devoid of credibility so they’ve opted to pass on this option.
Zumwalt – The Zumwalt has the size and power to fully field the AMDR and would be a good option, on paper. However, there are significant questions about the seakeeping characteristics of ship and my guess is that the Navy felt that was too much risk. The Navy did examine this option though how seriously, I’m not sure.
Lengthen – A lengthened Burke is a viable option and would provide at least some additional weight and space for the AMDR. Whether it would provide the necessary superstructure mounting without raising the center of gravity unacceptably is unsure. Again, the Navy supposedly examined this option and rejected it though I’ve never heard why.
Pure AAW – Another option would be to reconfigure the Flt III to be a pure AAW vessel - no guns, ASW, hangar, or anything else. This would fill the AAW and AAW command requirements while freeing up space and weight. Again, whether that would allow the full AMDR to be fit is unknown.
Distributed AAW – The AMDR doesn’t have to be mounted on the shooting platform. Various proposals have been made to mount the AMDR on a ship dedicated to that purpose. Such a ship would have the required space, weight, and power to support the radar and would be relatively cheap in that it would have no other functions or capabilities.
LPD-17 Variant – Proposals have been made to modify the LPD-17 to an AAW vessel. Again, the ship would have the space, weight, and power to support the full AMDR.
The point is that when all the possibilities are considered, the Navy’s chosen path of shoehorning the AMDR into the existing Burke hull is arguably the worst option. It’s just another in the seemingly endless string of poor decisions emanating from Navy leadership.