One of the key elements of a balanced and effective surface
navy is completely missing from the US Navy force structure and that is a true
destroyer. Yes, the Navy calls its
Burkes destroyers but we’ve previously noted that Burkes are not functional
destroyers – they’re the modern cruiser/battleship in that they are closely
tied to carrier and amphibious escort duty in the anti-air (AAW) role. Given their cost ($2B each) and value (Aegis
AAW), no sane commander is going to risk them in the anti-submarine (ASW)
role. Being tied so closely to the
carrier, they are also not a tactically flexible and useful anti-surface (ASuW)
What is missing, and needed, is a true destroyer that can
provide useful and effective ASW and ASuW.
Thus, the functions of a true destroyer include:
ASuW – This is
the main function of a modern destroyer just as it was in WWII. The WWII heavy torpedo fit is replaced by heavy
anti-ship cruise missiles (AGM-158C LRASM) although a heavy torpedo fit is also
retained and would prove a useful weapon against merchant shipping and in close
surface encounters, should those happen.
As in WWII, destroyers would operate in squadrons, able to mass their
firepower for effective anti-ship strikes.
The flexibility of not being intimately tied to carriers
allows the destroyer (squadron) to act independently in the anti-surface role,
conducting sweeps, patrols, raids, and interdiction. The higher risk of such operations is
justified by the lower cost of the ships.
One could also add a single Burke to a destroyer squadron to
act as a destroyer leader and provide higher end AAW protection.
ASW – While the
main responsibility for open ocean carrier, amphibious, and surface group ASW
protection lies with the destroyer escort, the destroyer provides the complementary
higher end, close up ASW capability as well as providing helicopters to support
the destroyer escort’s ASW efforts. Not
being tied to the high value unit’s AAW needs, like the Burke is, the destroyer
can leave the group to prosecute submarine contacts, if needed. It should be noted that the destroyer is
built from the first rivet to be an ASW platform with acoustic isolation of all
machinery, built in quieting, Prairie/Masker, and whatever other ASW-specific
quieting is available.
AAW – The
destroyer is not intended to provide area AAW protection. It’s AAW capability is limited to medium
range ESSM surface-to-air missiles for self-defense and local area protection for
vessels in fairly close proximity. With
no need to provide area AAW protection, there is no need to mount an expensive
Aegis/AMDR radar and combat suite, thus saving significant cost.
To summarize, from the blog Fleet Structure page, the
destroyer’s main features are:
2x 5” gun
2x Phalanx CIWS
32x Mk 41 VLS (ESSM, VL-ASROC, LRASM)
4x 21” torpedo
2x RBU-ish ASW rocket depth charges
2x MH-60R ASW helo
Hull mounted multi-frequency sonar
From the preceding discussion, we can see that the Concept
of Operations (CONOPS) for the destroyer is two-fold, as ever-so-briefly
1. Escort - The
destroyer is used to expand the escort (AAW and ASW) coverage area with
significant and effective firepower and capability without risking high value,
close escort Burkes. Operating in the
middle zone between the outer ASW destroyer escorts and the inner AAW Burkes, this
adds an additional layer of protection around the escorted vessels and expands
the sensor coverage area. The expanded
coverage area enables earlier warning and engagement of attacking aircraft,
ships, subs, and missiles.
One of the key aspects of the escort concept is
numbers. Destroyers must be deployed in
sufficient numbers to provide effective coverage and to be mutually
supporting. A carrier group, for
example, would require ten or more destroyers.
Operations - Destroyer squadrons allow for effective anti-surface sweeps
and operations, again without risking higher value Burkes, while maintaining a
formidable amount of firepower and a reasonable amount of AAW self-protection. While a destroyer squadron is not sufficient
to conduct a sweep of the South China Sea, by itself, against the entire
Chinese military, a squadron is powerful enough to conduct peripheral or
supporting operations while being capable of a reasonable degree of
Unlike a solitary ship engaged in the Navy’s idiotic
distributed lethality, which is subject to isolation and defeat in detail, a
destroyer squadron has the firepower to constitute a significant offensive
threat while presenting a challenging defensive capability that is sufficient
to give an enemy pause.
At this point, readers may be asking, ‘how is this different
than the frigate that ComNavOps is always arguing against’? The answer is that, on the surface, the
destroyer does spec out somewhat like a modern frigate. However, the deeper answer reveals that there
are significant differences:
CONOPS – The Navy envisions their frigate as a jack of all
trades, continually deployed, running around and accomplishing little. The problem is that the Navy has not
developed a CONOPS for the frigate whereas I’ve laid out a very specific, and
limited CONOPS for the destroyer. The
destroyer CONOPS requires significant numbers of ships in order to be effective
whereas the Navy is only planning on building 20 frigates – totally
insufficient. The destroyer CONOPS
emphasizes a very heavy anti-surface fit as opposed to the Navy’s frigate. The greatest overlap in the two ships lies in
the ASW role and, in this, they are reasonably equivalent.
Combat – The destroyer, totally unlike the Navy’s frigate,
is built for combat. To that end, it
will have WWII levels of armor, as appropriate for its size (1.5”-2” armored
guns, 1”-2” hull armor, 1”-1.5” deck armor, internal armored command (CIC) space,
armored VLS, etc.).
The ship will be built to take damage and continue
fighting. This includes characteristics
such as healthy weight reserves, extremely good stability (metacentric height),
excessive buoyancy reserve (recall the Navantia/Norwegian frigate that sank so
quickly from such minor damage? – that won’t happen with this ship), state of
the art damage control design, redundancy and separation of key components,
etc. This is not a ship that will go
down easily and, if it does go down, it will do so while continuing to fight.
Finally, we must consider the issue of cost. While I’ve stated repeatedly that cost cannot
be the controlling factor in ship design, neither can it be totally
ignored. The goal of intelligent ship
design is to build in the MINIMUM capability that can accomplish the CONOPS,
rather than trying to build in every capability ever conceived, as modern ship
All of the above is tremendous but unless it can be done for
a reasonable cost, it won’t be feasible.
So, what would a destroyer cost?
First, it is necessary to accept that this is a warship, not
a cruise ship. This is not a ship to
send on worthless 6-10 month deployments.
Therefore, the ship would have minimal crew comforts. All available space would go directly to weapons
and supporting functions.
The starting point for cost estimating is the Burke which
costs around $2B, depending on specific version and acquisition time frame. The major cost adjustments to the Burke would
Radar – Substituting a TRS-3/4D type radar for the Burke’s
Aegis/AMDR/BMD would save $200M-$300M in radar, supporting utilities,
computers, and software.
Size – The destroyer would be smaller than a Burke (510 ft
long). Relevant comparative data points
would be the Forrest Sherman DD class at 418 ft long, the Adams DDG class at
437 ft, and a modern frigate such as the F100 (Navantia) FFG family at 481
ft. The F100 is a bit oversized with
excessively large flight deck area (see a plan of a Ticonderoga or Spruance to
see what the flight deck area should be) and a greatly oversized superstructure
to accommodate advanced radars. The
conceptual model for the destroyer would be the WWII Fletcher with its
minimalist superstructure and no-frills construction. The overall size of the destroyer would be
around 430 ft. As a very crude
approximation, the 430 ft length is 84% that of a Burke. Thus, the Burke cost would scale down to
$1.7B based on a linear scaling of size and cost. I recognize that’s not how cost works but it
provides an idea of the savings due to size.
Of course, as size decreases, other aspects also decrease
resulting in further cost savings. For
example, smaller engines, smaller propellers, smaller air intakes and exhausts
all result in reduced costs. With
smaller propulsion equipment goes reduced manning which means smaller berthing
spaces which, in turn, means smaller galleys, food storage, water storage, etc.
The other significant size decrease would be in the
superstructure. Modern ships have hugely
increased the size of their superstructures since WWII, presumably in pursuit
of stealth shaping. This destroyer would
retain stealth shaping where possible but it would return to the conceptual
model of WWII ship design and hugely reduce the size of the
superstructure. This, alone, improves
the stealth by simply removing superstructure – the best stealth there is, is
non-existence! The conceptual model for
the superstructure would be the WWII Fletcher with its minimal superstructure. By greatly reducing the size of air intakes
and exhausts, eliminating giant radar arrays, and placing command spaces below
the main deck (the destroyer has minimal crew comforts, remember), we can
significantly reduce the size of the superstructure.
We see then, that a destroyer would be significantly cheaper
than a Burke due to reduced size, reduced crew comforts, greatly reduced radar
fit, smaller superstructure, etc. My
guesstimate on the cost is $800M.
The Navy desperately needs balance in its fleet composition instead of the all-Burke fleet we have now. We need balance in ship types, roles, cost, risk-aversion, and capabilities. Until we get that, we have a limited fleet that is heavily skewed toward expensive, risk-averse ships which makes for an ineffective combat fleet.
Bring back the missing destroyer!