Saturday, April 18, 2015

Burke Flt III

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.


  1. Was a ship based on the Supply Class Fast Combat Support Ship ever considered? They are 754 feet long and equipped with 4 LM-2500 gas turbines. I believe they were built to Level II survivability standards.

    A shortened version (say 650 feet) would provide plenty of room for guns, missiles, and electronics. They could also carry a larger helicopter detachment.

    1. Good thought. I've never heard that it was considered.

  2. Wouldn't an LPD-17 be too slow to keep up with a carrier group?

    That said, it might be good for an area defense platform, like the what they're doing now with the Burke's in Europe. Station one in the Eastern Med, another in the mid-Atlantic, a third in the Arabian Sea, and a fourth in the Pacific. I wonder if you could install a few of the big ABM's in ejectable silos to really long range targets.

    1. ABM mid-course is the biggest fraud in the Navy right now. Even the next generation promised can only reach ~150nm, whilst ICBMs and even IRBMs arc 300 miles overhead. Details here:

      People are shocked by this, but no one can point to any study that shows the SM-3s will ever reach high enough, other than some vague promises by the industry profiting from this scam. If the small SM-3 can do the job, we wouldn't be wasting so much money on the much bigger GBI missile.

    2. Anon, the g2mil author is heavily biased (nothing wrong with that!) but the report is interesting. The report fails to address the Navy's engagement tactics which, to be fair, are not public record, as far as I know, but which seem to be focused on the terminal phase which renders the author's range criticisms somewhat moot.

      Regardless, thanks for the link.

  3. Looks like the Navy is paying for cancelling the CGX program. The 14000 ton CGX and 23000 ton CGNX hulls would have been perfect to accommodate AMDR with plenty of room for future growth.

  4. I believe the real reason is for this fiasco is JOBS!

    The 10 Senators most directly affected by shipbuilding DO NOT want ANY slowdown in shipbuilding. Having a 7 year hiatus (assuming the Navy could design a ship in that short of time) would mean an senatorial election cycle would be affected with shipyard jobs being lost. This just MIGHT threaten the cushy senatorial jobs which means the Navy Managers understand that building marginal ships is better than interrupting the flow of money for jobs. Especially because whoever in the Navy tried to show leadership and NOT merely management would not get a cushy post retirement job.

    Wait isn't this welfare for blue collar workers? Or is it senatorial extortion?

    1. Taking a 7 year hiatus from surface combatant shipbuilding at Bath and Ingals would be disastrous. Lossed jobs = skilled workers finding other work. They aren't going to sit around for 7 years waiting for the next contract. Reconstituting that capacity after such a long hiatus would be exceedingly painful.

      Also, 7 years off means a dip of 7-14 ships in the total force in the future. I guarantee we won't come back and build 3-4 destroyers per year to compensate.

      How is this a fiasco? The Flt IIIs appear to be coming along rather smoothly. Last I checked, AMDR is actually LESS expensive than originally thought.

      Sure, the Navy didn't get everything they wanted. But there is a good chance the Flt IIIs will be delivered at or near the estimated costs. That's a win for any military procurement.

    2. If you say you need the full AMDR capability but then don't deliver it because you can't fit it in an available Hull, that kinda falls into the fiasco category.

      UNLESS you want to say that the AMDR effort was an overspec'd program that wasted money because they couldn't look at the Hulls it had to fit into.

      So maybe the AMDR was the fiasco and the Flt III with reduced ABM capability is okay.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. I have one more question....

      given the proliferation of AShM's and the platforms to launch or carry them... are improved radars and SAM's the way to go? If AShBM technology is really here, and we have to defend against it, it seems very difficult to shoot down everything that technology can bring to bare. 2 anti ship ballistic missiles could each have multiple warheads. Missiles are comparitively cheap compared to the ships they want to sink, so it makes sense to be able to send alot of them. So we could have a real numbers problem. Even if you survive the initial attack you are quite possibly mission killed if you fire off 3/4 of your SAM's.

      Lasers aren't ready for prime time. Rail guns aren't ready for prime time, to me, that suggests that maybe we need to spend alot more time with electronic attack? I know next to nothing about EA, so I'm way out on a limb. But I've read that the modern AESA radars can also be used for EA on incoming weapons.

      Could you turn AEGIS or AMDR into a massive EA platform to help ward off the terminal attack of these missiles?

    5. I suppose the question for me is will the AMDR that can fit on the Flt III's do the job?

      If yes, then its fine. If no, then its purchase of Bad Idea Jeans; a modern day version of the tin clad cruisers in the sense that it has weapons but major, gaping holes.

      I honestly have no answer to that question. One would hope the Navy looked at it and said 'We'll build Flight III and its good enough till we can get a better platform'.

      What is a bit vexing is wondering what the draw backs to lengthening, or a modified LPD might be. I'd just want to know why they couldn't pursue those things, particularly lengthening the hull.

      Apart from AMDR I think that we also need more room just for more VLS cells with the eventual retiring of the Tico's.

    6. Anon,

      Life is a series of trade offs. Maybe the Navy doesn't get the AMDR it wants, but it does get more ships than it would have otherwise. There are pros and cons to each.

      Without knowing the specifics, we can't judge whether more ships is better than a higher end AMDR.

    7. I am just sick and tired of working on and paying for ships that do not deliver what they are supposed to, are overweight, and overcost.

      DDG 1000 is too expensive and STILL there are questions about its seaworthiness and CoG. BOTH LCS's were designed and delivered overweight. Not just they ate into the growth margin, but there WAS NO MARGIN. Remember the Butt-cheeks that were welded onto LCS-1? The Burke ships were always crowded and while not overweight certainly have limited growth margin left. So the new ships that the Navy is going to get, that have to live for 30 years, have no growth room.

      NOT a good trade off IMHO to field a platform that can't upgrade in this day and age of rapid threat changes.

      As COMNAVOPS pointed out the Navy (Naively in my opinion, because they are not ready yet) is actively looking to force lasers and rail guns on platforms. What has to come off to fit them?

    8. There are some margins left on the Burkes, especially if they sacrifice other features. They could always take up one or both helo hangars. Granted, not ideal.

      This way gets AMDR in the fleet sooner, albeit at a lower level than a clean sheet design. Flt III also gets AMDR into the fleet at far lower risk than a clean sheet design.

      The Navy needs to demonstrate a useful laser weapon or rail gun under operational conditions before they even think about sticking them on a warship. They are still far from doing that.

    9. B. Smitty,

      honestly I'm fine with that. IIRC looking at the interwar Navy they made lots of compromises there too, like the constant rebuilds of the Standards. It didn't work out the way that we necessarily wanted, but neither would have new builds.

      They key question is whether this level of AMDR is sufficient. Another very important one is if this level of AMDR is cost effective, or as good as the latest Aegis upgrades.

      Finally, will we have enough in the kitty left over to maintain these puppies to be as effective as possible, and not ridden hard and put away wet?

      If the answer to all those things is 'yes' and their previous announcement that the 'Burkes weren't big enough to provide the size needed was with the unwritten qualification of 'in an ideal world' and 'compared to everything we want' then I'm fine with it.

      If its not, then.... it makes more sense just to build more Flight IIA's to me. Aegis may not do everything we want but its not bad.

    10. "Taking a 7 year hiatus from surface combatant shipbuilding at Bath and Ingals would be disastrous."

      That's a false argument. A 7 year hiatus could be easily filled with heavy duty maintenance and upgrades which would keep our skilled labor more than busy.

    11. "They could always take up one or both helo hangars. Granted, not ideal."

      Strong candidate for understatement of the year!

    12. " Flt III also gets AMDR into the fleet at far lower risk than a clean sheet design."

      My understanding is that AMDR is infinitely scalable. Therefore, we can install a very small version on Cyclone PCs if our only goal is to get it into the fleet.

      Our goal is not to get it into the fleet just to be able to say it's in the fleet but to get it into the fleet in a version that actually meets the stated needs which the Flt III does not.

    13. CNO,

      Workload from maintenance and upgrades of the existing fleet is vastly different in scope and scale than new construction, so it's not at all a false argument.

    14. It's not different at all. It's the same welding, electronics, pipefitting, etc.

    15. Prove it. Show me how to keep the entire pipeline of prime and subcontractors, with all their various trades and specialized facilities gainfully employed while they build nothing for 7 years, other than bits and pieces of upgrades.

      My guess is Bath goes out of business completely.

      Tell me, what of this is useful for repair and modernization?

    16. CNO said, "My understanding is that AMDR is infinitely scalable. Therefore, we can install a very small version on Cyclone PCs if our only goal is to get it into the fleet."

      Seriously? AMDR on a Burke will be capable of the full suite of destroyer missions. It will be significantly better at them than the Flt IIA SPY-1D.

      Wasn't CNO's #1 war winner "Numbers"?

      How is trading up to fourteen Flt III Burkes for maybe one uber-AMDR destroyer, and the chance to build more at a much higher price, going to help with the numbers problem?

      Maybe perfect is the enemy of good enough.

    17. "Prove it. Show me how to keep the entire pipeline of prime and subcontractors, with all their various trades and specialized facilities gainfully employed while they build nothing for 7 years, other than bits and pieces of upgrades."

      As one example, consider the huge number of modifications to the LXXs required to operate the F-35Bs - things like structural reinforcement of the flight deck and underlying structural members, soundproofing, comm facility mods, hangar mods, aircraft engine handling and storage mods, and a host of other mods the Navy says are needed. And that's just one upgrade for one type of ship!

      Those bits and pieces would overwhelm our yard capacities.

    18. We are already performing those modifications in addition to new construction. New construction uses different facilities for fabrication and fitting of blocks and block assembly. If you don't keep those facilities active, they will shut down and be sold off.

      If you don't keep all of the subcontrators busy fabricating new components and new materials for new ships, many will shut down and disappear.

      There just isn't enough work and enough of the right kind of work, spanning the full spectrum of shipbuilding activities, in maintenance alone.

      There are other ways to compensate for the 14' AMDR array. The "Adjunct Radar Ship" with a Cobra King-like radar is one

      We should be thinking about what comes after the Flt III. Start design work now, while continuing the Flt III. Just don't stop what appears to be a successful program with the promise of something better maybe in 7+ years, at twice the price.

      From the GAO Selected Acquisition Report:

      "According to draft AMDR documents, a 14-foot radar is needed to meet threshold requirements, but an over 20-foot radar is required to fully meet the Navy’s desired integrated air and missile defense needs."

      So 14' meets the requirements, 20' is desired by the Navy for missile defense. Hardly a fiasco to simply meet the requirement. Can't get everything you want.

    19. Threshold. Do we really want to build ships that will be the backbone of the fleet for the next 35 yrs to a standard of the lowest permissible performance CURRENTLY acceptable?

    20. Modifications. We're only upgrading a very few ships, if any, each year and then only to minimal levels. If we stopped new construction for a time, we'd have the opportunity and funding to upgrade every ship in the fleet and with some serious capabilities. You seem to think we'll forget how to build ships within an hour of stopping!

      A hiatus would also afford the yards an opportunity to upgrade their facilities and practices. Who knows, maybe we'd wind up building ships better than we do now. Does anyone think the LPD-17 class was a shipbuilding success? Does anyone think a $13B carrier is a success?

    21. Yes, I think stopping production for any length of time means we will lose shipbuilding capacity.

      Shipbuilders WILL NOT keep unused production capacity or invest in improvements on the promise that 7 years from now, they might be able to utilize it. They will only keep it and invest in it if they have a STABLE and HEALTHY pipeline of production orders.

      This is Capitalism 101.

      Maintenance work is NOT the same as new production. There is some overlap, but not much.

      Every ship has a standard upgrade cycle. They will be upgraded over time.

    22. CNO: "Do we really want to build ships that will be the backbone of the fleet for the next 35 yrs to a standard of the lowest permissible performance CURRENTLY acceptable?"

      A wise man once said,

      We’ve had recent discussions about quantity versus quality, here and here, the supposed need for the F-35 because of the technological edge it provides, and so forth. The underlying, if unstated, question in all these discussions is, of course, how best to win a war. I won’t repeat the various points that were made. Instead, I’d like to offer my prioritized list of factors that are most important for winning a war.

      1. Numbers
      2. Training
      3. Maintenance
      4. Technology

    23. Random idea...

      It seems like lots of other nations have, for years, built warships to be sold. We do the same for other platforms (though to a lesser extent, I know alot end up getting built in the country they are sold for...)

      One of the things we absolutely have to have for warship production is the industrial line behind it. Why not try to get foreign sales? I'm not saying 'lets sell LCS's!' because no one apparently wants them. I'm more of the opinion that it might (and this will be controversial) subsidize the shipyards so they can make a very competitive bid to design/build a warship another country wants. Say Canada wants a new frigate, or the Phillipines. BIW or someone could design it for them to their specs. Or they do the 'Burke Frigate' for them.

      It serves two purposes: We end up getting and retaining industrial know how in a field that the free market won't keep alive, and we get capable platforms to players who might help us in areas where we need help.

      I know its expensive, but its possible its not horrifically expensive. And you'd want it to come out of some other budget. Maybe as some sort of foreign aid...

    24. Numbers. Presumably you understand the implied corollary that the numbers must be combat effective. A thousand rowboats is a large number but have no combat effectiveness. Similarly, 52 LCSs will make up a third of the combat fleet but have no combat capability.

      I fully endorse lower end combat platforms procured in large numbers but the backbone of the fleet for the next 35 years is not the place to skimp on capability for the sake of a couple extra hulls in the water.

    25. Jim, I'm not sure from your comment whether you're suggesting government subsidies for shipyards or just trying to sell what we already produce. Subsidies would work but the magnitude and source of the funding is an issue. Also, we would have to come to grips with the degree of technology we'd be willing to release to other countries. Do we want other countries to be able to buy a Burke (or Burke lite or Burke frigate or whatever) and have access to our technology?

      Shipbuilding is a complicated issue but in simplistic terms our internal laws, regulations, and compensation levels have rendered our shipyards non-competitive. Are we willing to compromise on those for the sake of sales? Tough issue to resolve!

    26. CNO,

      Then you must be championing early retirement of the Ticos! None of them have anything close to a 20' AMDR, let alone a 14' version, and are thus "combat ineffective" by your definition. For that matter, so are all of the Burkes. Early retirement for them all! None of them have any "combat effectiveness" left, or what they have will soon be gone.

      We could have fourteen Flt IIA and IIIs in the water by the time the first uber-AMDR DDG(X) comes online, assuming a 7 year development cycle. And then I guarantee we won't be able to buy these DDG(X)s for the same prices as a Flt III Burke. At best, I bet we could buy Burkes two for one, or three for two of these DDG(X)s.

      That's a fairly sizable drop in overall surface combatant numbers. Not just a "couple extra hulls".

    27. CNO,

      basically I'm suggesting that the government subsidize foreign sales; whether its Malaysia coming to BIW with a general 'Make us a Corvette' and BIW comes up with its own design using stuff it can get off the market, or if its BIW saying 'We can make a Frigate based on the 'Burke hull using 'X technology we're allowed to export'.

      The subsidies come in so that BIW can market these things at a cost effective price.

      You're right, its a complex issue. I just wonder... when I was in Korea I was speaking with someone who described how they were able to capture a large market of the shipbuilding market. The Chaebols helped.

      We absolutely must have ship building, particularly warship building, for a Navy. But the Navy can't support a hugely complex and expensive industry itself all the time. It would be nice to fertilize the field so to speak.

    28. Jim said, "It seems like lots of other nations have, for years, built warships to be sold. We do the same for other platforms (though to a lesser extent, I know alot end up getting built in the country they are sold for...)"

      Historically we've been better at building ships that work for us, but are reasonably close to what other nations want too. They may not be ideal for our allies, but our large production runs drive the price down to where they get a good bargain. Examples of this include the FFG-7s sold to various countries.

      Another option we have used in the past is to design and build ships we want, but sell them before the end of their service lives. We recoup some costs and don't have to deal with long term maintenance and modernization, and our allies get a workable ship on the cheap.

    29. What ships have we ever built and sold as new to another country? I'm having a hard time thinking of an example. The Perrys have been sold as used. Did we sell a new one to Australia or just the design rights?

      Can anyone think of a ship we built and sold new?

    30. "Then you must be championing early retirement of the Ticos! None of them have anything close to a 20' AMDR, let alone a 14' version, and are thus "combat ineffective" by your definition. For that matter, so are all of the Burkes. Early retirement for them all! None of them have any "combat effectiveness" left, or what they have will soon be gone."

      You're obviously engaging in a bit of hyperbole. That's fine. I dabble in it myself from time to time.

      On a serious note, you recognize the world of difference between keeping a ship that is no longer state of the art but still quite effective versus intentionally and knowingly building a brand new ship that barely meets the lowest level of performance and is expected to be the backbone of the fleet for the next 35 yrs.

    31. It's unclear if the Flt III Burke alone is meant to match that level of AMDR performance. Robert O'Rourke's paper mentions a number of other supplementary platforms that could be built, in addition to the Flt III, such as a simpler Cobra King vessel. The combination could meet the future AMD need.

      In any case, a certain number of hulls are also a Navy requirement. Without major budget increases, it's unclear how the Navy meets both their desired AMDR performance, and the total number of AMD-capable surface combatants. The Navy made a choice. They went for the more sure thing, at the expense of top end performance.

      Personally, I think they took the right approach. Modifying an existing, well-understood design greatly reduces the risk, assuming margins can be managed, vs designing a completely new vessel.

      MANY programs don't meet all or even most of their objective (aka "desired") requirements. That's why threshold requirements are there.

    32. In response to your question "Can anyone think of a ship we built and sold as new", there are a few examples. The Kidd class destroyers (they were based on Spruances) were originally built for Iran until the revolution in 1979...we ended up keeping those. We built Knox class frigates (called Baleares class) for Spain. We also built Perry class frigates for Australia.

      These are all a bit dated, VT Halter is building 4 Fast Missile Craft for Egypt.

  5. Missed Opportunities

    What is difficult to understand is why after deciding to re-start production of the DDG51 sort out one of the major shortfalls with Arleigh Burke with the Flight III. The limited operational range, understand max. range at 18/20 knots is approx. 4,500 nmi, 3,000 nmi with reserves, less if higher speeds required for guard duty for CVN
    Gas turbines are gas guzzlers if not operated at their optimum rpm.
    Currently at the lower speeds only one of the GE LM2500 ( two per shaft) is operational, the other propellor is trailing and creating additional drag. To ameliorate this problem the Navy placed contracts with Northrop Grumann and General Atomics back in 2011 to investigate HED (Hybrid Electric Drive). This allows the the RR Allison AT9140 gas turbine generators to power both shafts economically at low speeds without firing up the LM2500's, if additional is power required for the radar the HED would allow the LM2500 to power up and generate additional electrical and or ship propulsion . Ron O’Rourke stated to Congress HED would improve fuel consumption by 16%.

    The US Navy practise is to run two of the three 3MW GTG's so as no single point failure, so they operate at half speed with approx. double the fuel consumption than if operating at full power, to overcome this the University of Texas and RR designed a flywheel energy storage system which would allow 10 minutes of full power to allow time to start a second GTG, saving on fuel and engine life, no sign of US Navy interest.

    The current three AG9140 3MW GTG's weigh 30 tons each (Flight III using updated 4MW generators) plus much space due to their design with a 14,400 rpm turbine coupled with a 1,800 rpm generator which requires a big heavy 8:1/ 3,600 lbs gearbox, with the Flight III why not use a high speed generator and get rid of the gear box by using a high speed generator, saving space and weight, use the more modern and powerful RR MT7 used in the Textron ship to shore connector coupled with a 5MW generator.


    1. Nick, very interesting and informative comment. I don't know enough about the specifics to intelligently assess the idea but the general concept seems good. Thanks for commenting!

  6. Slightly off topic, but I found this while researching AMDR and the FLT III program.

    Pgs 61 & 62,

    "CBO estimated the costs of the other 15 DD(X)s by analyzing the actual costs of the DDG 51s that were bought during the 1985 1992 period. That analysis indi cated that doubling the annual purchase rate reduced unit costs by about 15 percent. Thus, CBO estimated that the cost of the second DD(X) would total about $2.2 billion (the same amount as the first ship minus the nonrecurring detail design) and that the unit cost of the remaining ships would fall to $1.7 billion when the production rate rose to three a year."


    "CBO estimated the costs of the succeeding 55 littoral combat ships using statistical analyses of the costs of the FFG 7s bought during the 1970s. Those analyses show that costs decline as production rates increase. The unit cost for the FFG 7 fell by 20 percent when the annual purchase rate doubled. On the basis of that relationship, CBO estimated that the remaining LCSs would cost an average of $350 million apiece."

    Additional data points in the argument over whether production rate increases lower cost.

    1. "Additional data points in the argument over whether production rate increases lower cost."

      You may be misunderstanding the argument. I don't think anyone disputes the concept of lower price with increased production rates. I certainly don't! The dispute is whether lower prices are ever actually realized given the magnitude of the other factors that affect construction costs: continual redesigns, concurrency, ever increasing rules and regulations, inevitable reductions in quantity, schedule slippages, component cost increases above inflation, etc. My personal belief is that serial production savings occur (I can buy two pumps cheaper than one) but are swamped by the other factors. Thus, serial savings are only rarely (never?) observed in practice.

    2. The other factors you mentioned certainly cloud the picture, however the production rate savings are still there. They are just harder to tease out of the overall picture.

      If anything, higher rate production also acts to mask the cost of those other variables. Continuous redesigns will happen over time, regardless of build rate, at a cost that doesn't depend on build rate. Schedule slippages for one ship can sometimes be made up with another. And so on.


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 30 days in order to reduce spam.