The new Zumwalt (DDG-1000) class destroyers feature full electric propulsion and a radical stealth design. A product of the US Navy’s post-Cold War focus on littoral operations, their cost priced them out of the future construction programme and previous plans for an extensive series have been reduced to just three ships. Instead, production has resumed of the Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) class, the current Flight IIA version being represented here by Chung Hoon (DDG-93). Construction of a further improved Flight III version will start shortly. Meanwhile, second line surface warships are now concentrated on the Freedom (LCS-1) and Independence (LCS-2) Littoral Combat Ship designs; a controversial programme that looks set to be truncated to forty ships.
The twenty-two remaining Ticonderoga (CG-47) class guided- missile cruisers provide multi-mission offensive and defensive capabilities and can operate either independently or as part of aircraft carrier strike groups and surface action groups. They tend to have better command and control facilities than the smaller destroyers; one is typically assigned to each carrier strike group under the command of the group’s air warfare commander. Like other major US Navy surface combatants, they have a combat system centred on the Aegis Weapon System and the SPY-1 series multi- function phased-array radar. Armament includes the Mk 41 vertical launching system (VLS) equipped with Standard Missile surface-to-air missiles and Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles; advanced undersea and surface warfare systems; and embarked helicopters. These capabilities are supplemented by extensive command, control and communications systems. The class have been extensively modernised over the past ten years and the navy would like to withdraw half the class from operational service for further upgrades that would extend their lives into the mid-2030s and beyond. However, this plan sparked Congressional opposition, largely over concerns that the no-operational ships would never be returned to service; a modified scheme is now being implemented.
The Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) class guided-missile destroyers’ combat system likewise is centred on the Aegis Weapon System and the SPY-1 radar. Like the cruisers, they provide multi-mission offensive and defensive capability, operating independently or as part of an aircraft carrier strike group or surface action group. Twenty-eight Flight I/II and thirty-four Flight IIA variants are currently in service; the latter support two embarked helicopters, significantly enhancing their sea-control capability. The DDG-51 upgrade plan includes an improved multimission signal processor, which integrates air and ballistic missile defence capabilities, and enhancements to radar performance in the littorals. The VLS will be able to support the latest SM-3 and SM-6 variants of the Standard Missile currently entering service. A Flight III variant is also in development and will incorporate the advanced air and missile defence radar (AMDR) and other technology insertions. It would seem that eighty or more DDG-51 series destroyers will ultimately be built.
The Zumwalt (DDG-1000)-class guided-missile destroyer is a 15,000-ton optimally- manned (142 crew), multi-mission surface warship tailored for land attack and littoral dominance. The original acquisition strategy identified thirty-two DDG-1000s. This was reduced to three in favour of restarted production of the cheaper DDG-51 design. The lead ship began sea trials in December 2015. With twenty Mk 57 peripheral VLS modules (each with four cells suitable for several missiles) and two 155mm Advanced Gun Systems, the navy’s first `all-electric’ warship will provide long-range precision fire in support of forces ashore, operating independently or as part of naval, joint or combined strike forces. To ensure effective operations in the contested littoral, it incorporates signature reduction, active and passive self-defence systems, and enhanced survivability features. It fields an undersea warfare suite capable of mine avoidance, as well as self-defence systems to defeat threats ranging from submarines and cruise missiles to small boats.
Turning to smaller surface combatants, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is a modular, reconfigurable ship that addresses warfighting capability gaps against asymmetric anti- access threats and will eventually comprise a significant portion of the US Navy’s future surface combatant fleet. Through its modular design, LCS can be reconfigured for mine- countermeasures, surface warfare, and anti-submarine warfare missions. This versatility enables the Navy to provide warfighters with a capable, cost-effective solution to expeditionary operations in the littoral. There are two variants of LCS, the Freedom ((LCS-1) design (odd-numbered ships) and Independence (LCS-2) design (even- numbered ships). The Freedom variant is a steel semi-planing mono-hull with an aluminium superstructure, whilst the Independence variant is an all-aluminium trimaran. As of late 2015, six Littoral Combat Ships had been commissioned and another eighteen were under construction of contract. There has been much debate over the level of capability the LCS offers compared with its cost; this has resulted in a decision to progress to an upgraded light frigate variant from LCS-33 onwards. Whether the recent reduction in the targeted number of small surface combatants to just forty will result in further changes remains to be seen.
The Littoral Combat Ships Fort Worth (LCS-3) – foreground – and Freedom (LCS-1) pass each other off the coast of San Diego. The US Navy’s increased interest in littoral operations following the end of the Cold War eventually spawned the Littoral Combat Ship concept.
THE US NAVY’S SHIFT TO THE LITTORAL
With the Soviets gone the United States no longer faced a peer rival able to challenge global sea control, but it was clear that there would still be conflicts and crises that would likely involve the United States in some form or another. The US Navy responded to this new era in a series of `capstone’ policy documents that articulated a shift in emphasis away from `blue water’ operations towards a focus on responding to the challenge of what the US Marine Corps described as `chaos in the littorals’. The first of these documents, entitled The Way Ahead, was published in April 1991, shortly after the conclusion of the Gulf conflict. This was followed in 1992 by… From the Sea, in 1994 by Forward From the Sea, and in 1997 by Anytime, Anywhere: A Navy for the 21st Century.
Despite some notable differences in emphasis between these documents they all shared a common focus on a littoral approach and on the kind of capabilities that would enable the navy to influence events on land from the sea in a context where regional crises could occur in unexpected places. Blue-water concerns were never entirely forgotten, and received enhanced prominence in Forward From the Sea, but the US Navy had clearly repositioned itself from being one designed primarily to fight for control of the sea against a major peer rival to a force able to exploit its near-monopolistic control in order to influence events ashore in a broad range of contingencies. US Navy interest was matched by that of the US Marine Corps whose concept for Operational Maneuver from the Sea, published in 1996, articulated a way for amphibious forces to be employed to decisive effect in the post-Cold War era.
The need to project power ashore was evident in a series of crises including Operations `Deny Flight’ (1994) and `Deliberate Force’ (1995) in Bosnia, where US Navy and US Marine Corps aircraft and sea-launched cruise missiles made an important impact. This was also the case with respect to Operation `Allied Force’ in Kosovo (1999), where sea-launched missiles and carrier aviation made another significant contribution to success ashore. Sea-based missiles and aircraft also contributed to the constant sorties and occasional strikes in the Persian Gulf that marked the interval between the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In all three cases the US Navy also undertook embargo operations in support of international sanctions. The growing range of sea-based strikes was illustrated in 1998 when seventy-five sea-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles were fired at targets in Sudan and land-locked Afghanistan in retaliation for the terrorist attacks on United States’ embassies in East Africa in August that year. That the US Navy could also fulfil more traditional forward presence and deterrence missions was illustrated during the Taiwan Straits crisis in 1996 when two US Navy carriers were deployed to the straits in response to provocative Chinese missile tests; a rather traditional employment of naval forces to demonstrate United States’ capacity and resolve to protect its friends from potential aggression.
By 1999, ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the US Navy had contracted significantly, from almost 600 (actually 566) ships and submarines in commission to `just’ 317. The four old battleships were retired and the navy cut the number of carriers in commission from fifteen to twelve. Particularly heavy cuts were experienced by those forces whose primary rationale related to Cold War missions. Thus, the number of strategic missile submarines was halved from thirty-six to eighteen boats over the course of the decade, nuclear-powered attack submarine numbers were similarly cut from ninety-six to fifty-seven and conventional attack submarines were phased out entirely. The number of frigates, intended primarily for anti-submarine work, was cut by nearly two-thirds, from 100 to just thirty-seven. It should be noted that over the same time period the number of amphibious ships was reduced from sixty-five to forty-one hulls, although the replacement of older ships with newer, more capable vessels mitigated the loss in expeditionary capability. As Amund Lundesgaard has noted, the increase in the number of mine countermeasure vessels, from five to sixteen, reflected the new emphasis on littoral warfare.