This approach is in stark comparison to what many consider to be the gold standard of ship design and construction—i.e., the program that led to the Aegis Ticonderoga (CG-47)-class cruiser. The “Father of Aegis,” Rear Admiral Wayne E. Meyer, established and sustained this standard and program, and his determination, persistence, and vision would ultimately ensure the U.S. Navy’s at-sea dominance, which continues to this day.
In the pursuit of a new warship, the Navy should emulate the Aegis program. The question to ask now is: What separated the Aegis program from all others?
Assigned as the founding project manager of Aegis shipbuilding, Meyer entered the effort with a remarkable perspective. Instead of being about a specific ship, Meyer made it all about the program itself. His vision was to build a system of systems that could then be tailored to yield differing hulls, with differing missions.
Meyer’s now famous “build a little, test a little, learn a lot” approach drove the testing and milestones of the entire Aegis program. Underlying his philosophy were several keys used to specify and measure performance; these were the functional cornerstones of detect, control, and engage. Within each of these were subordinate operational cornerstones: reaction time, firepower, electronic countermeasure and environmental immunity, and continuous availability and area coverage.
Meyer’s unified theory of building combat platforms resulted in putting the U.S. Navy decades ahead of any at-sea challenger. Forty years have passed, and the world draws closer in terms of eroding the edge Aegis provided.
The lessons of Meyer and Aegis should be recalled now. An empowered, farsighted program is required. This must come first, and it will require not only the right helmsmen, but also the persistent and long-term support of Navy leadership.
Margin and Power
In the view of Vice Admiral Phillip Balisle, a former Commander, Naval Sea Systems Command, and carrier strike group commander, the entering argument of any future shipbuilding program must be the recognition that “margin” and “power” will rank far above any other considerations.
Margin is the excess space resident in a hull. The Spruance (DD-963) hull, for example, was built with significant excess margin. Over time, this space allowed the class to be backfitted with Tomahawk cruise missiles and to accommodate larger helicopters, to name but two post-construction additions. This initially unused space allowed for the fullest possible growth of the class and led to the selection of the Spruance hull for the Aegis cruiser.
Excess margin is critical, because the next cruiser will be at least a 40-year ship, and the lifespan of the entire class likely may cover 75 years. At this point, we cannot know what sort of technologies will be at our disposal in future decades. An enormous margin is an absolute necessity in order to allow for surprising and unexpected growth over many years of technological advances.
Of equal import is power. There never has been a Navy ship class that, at midlife, had its engineering plant changed. Simply put, the hull and the engineering plant are inseparable. The next cruisers’ engineering plant will be the one that they are using at the end of their service lives. This plant must be all about power production and the capability to flexibly distribute it in real time. Future weapon systems increasingly will require massive amounts of electrical power. High-energy sensors, communications, and weapons are all rooted in a requirement for electrical power that is unattainable from present-day plants.
The first step has been achieved in the engineering plant of the Zumwalt (DDG-1000) class with its all-electric propulsion. The plant integrates an all-electric drive with an integrated power system (IPS) consisting of two main turbine generators (MTGs), two auxiliary turbine generators (ATGs), and two 34.6MW advanced induction motors (AIMs). The Zumwalt’s all-electric propulsion can generate 58MW of additional reserved power, allowing for the integration of future systems.
The Zumwalt engineering plant is an excellent start. But the next ships will require a significantly more powerful and advanced system. This new system must be able to automatically, instantaneously, and intelligently route power, in amounts difficult to envision, throughout the ship.
The next ship must also be the nexus of a long-aimed-at vision—the establishment of an identical, real-time, fire control–quality tactical picture that is commonly held in every unit of the force—and beyond the local theater. This is essential for true force-wide combat systems integration. Further, until this integration is established, no one at any level can fully understand what is going on in any other unit of the force. Concepts such as distributed lethality depend on systems being integrated across the force as well as possessing a single, integrated picture.
More important, the capabilities, survivability, and freedom of movement of the aircraft carrier are suboptimized because the picture is unresolved. This slows, confuses, and erodes defense.
It should be understood that the required picture of the battlespace currently does not exist: Despite the much touted “common operations picture,” the carrier’s view of the world is only similar to (but not tactically useful to) that of the cruiser, destroyer, or anyone else.
A new “force battle manager” molded from many existing pieces must be developed for the next ships. In addition to overseeing a common tactical picture (CTP) and integrating every unit’s combat system, it will include a “sensing architecture.” It must be able to automatically determine and then correct connectivity issues. This sensing capability will allow units to see the true status of all other units—ordnance, radar mode, damage, etc.—and remotely and automatically control certain aspects of individual units. Powerful algorithms could control and automate the system, turning the battlespace into an agnostic web of sensors, weapons, and targets. This is a necessity given the rapidly accelerating detect-to-kill chain.
Consider, again, the Aegis program from which grew remarkable, originally unforeseen, capabilities: cooperative engagement, naval integrated fire control–counter air, and ballistic missile defense. The subsystems elemental to this battle manager already exist at varying levels, but they are spread out and disconnected throughout various systems commands. They must be brought together and carefully nurtured and managed under the same shipbuilding program.
Committing to the Navy’s Future
A new program must be established now, one that will yield a cruiser first. This program must have powerful sponsorship and determined, persistent Navy-wide support. Just as important, it needs a long-term vision and a single, long-term manager who can emulate Meyer’s—in other words, a naval professional more concerned with the Navy’s future than with his or her career. This program needs a name, not a number, that people can rally to. And it must have the cornerstones of margin, power, and battle management from the start.
At the same time, it must be recognized that this program initially will be expensive. Yet it will be amortized over as many as 75 years—and most important, it will assure the U.S. Navy’s unchallenged command of the seas for decades to come. Recall that many argued early on that Aegis would be “too expensive,” yet it has yielded some 100 warships superior to any on the sea. The alternative is to witness the erosion of the Navy’s predominance among the navies of the world.