The design of the US Navy’s DDG(X) destroyer is riddled with holes

Omar Adan
Omar Adan

Global Courant

The US is accelerating development of its next-generation DDG(X) destroyer, a design that will replace the aging Ticonderoga-class cruisers and maximum Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

National Defense Magazine reported this this month that the US Navy had requested $187.4 million in funding for DDG(X) research and development. The report notes that the destroyer’s original design calls for a displacement of 13,500 tons, nearly 40% larger than its Arleigh Burke predecessor.

It also mentions that the DDG(X) will initially have the same weapons as the Arleigh Burke Flight III ships, including the Aegis missile defense system and two 21-cell Rolling Airframe Missile launchers.

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National Defense Magazine notes that upgradeability is a key design consideration for the DDG(X), with the class intended to operate lasers and hypersonic missiles.

The report notes that the class will use an Integrated Power System (IPS) to power those weapons, with the added ability for the ship’s crew to allocate power to propulsion or weapon systems in real time.

The source states that production of DDG(X) will begin in 2030 with an average cost ranging from $3.1 billion to $3.4 billion, according to the US Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and $2.3 billion to 2, $4 billion according to the US Navy. estimates.

The U.S. Navy’s obsolete Ticonderoga-class cruisers and maximum-performance Arleigh Burke-class destroyers could be a long time coming, given the rapid modernization and expansion of the Chinese Navy.

The US Navy wants to retire its 22-ship Ticonderoga-class cruiser fleet within five years, despite their formidable armaments and the strategic fact that they are the only ships capable of acting as a central operations center for the US aircraft carrier group’s air warfare commander, Howard Atman writes in an April 2022 article for The Warzone.

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Altman writes that Ticonderoga-class cruisers average 35 years of age and are deteriorating, suffering from cracks and structural problems, aging and support problems, with the considerable cost of repairing the ships outweighing their remaining wartime value.

A Ticonderoga-class cruiser. Photo: Wikimedia Commons / United States Navy

Meanwhile, Caleb Larson notices in a June 2020 article for The National Interest that Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have been maximally improved. Larson notes that the Arleigh Burke’s internal space limitations do not allow for enhanced onboard power generation, meaning that newer communications, radar, directed energy weapons and propulsion systems cannot be installed.

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While the DDG(X) aims to solve the problems associated with Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, there are concerns about the strategic value, operational viability and sustainability of the project .

Ronald O’Rourke means it in a February 2022 article for National Defense Magazine that the US Navy should clarify the proposed new capabilities and increased payload of the DDG(X), especially as breakthrough technologies such as lasers and hypersonic weapons are still in an immature stage of development.

In the meantime, a March 2023 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report outlines the operational challenges of the DDG(X) project.

The report asks whether a large surface combatant such as the DDG(X) would be compatible with the U.S. Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) concept, which envisions a future fleet with a force mix with a lower proportion of larger ships and a larger share of smaller ships.

Andrew Davies notes in January 2022 article for The Strategist that the rational response to increased lethality on the battlefield, including the naval domain, is a greater dispersal of troops. However, the DDG(X) is moving in the opposite direction by packing so much capacity into one potentially vulnerable asset.

The CRS report also asks whether a new variant of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer would be more cost-effective than the all-new DDG(X) design.

In a March 2023 article for Popular Mechanicsnotes Kyle Mizokami that upgrade packages could keep the Arleigh Burke viable through 2031, with the latest Arleigh Burke Flight III ships featuring a more powerful SPY-6 radar, new Rolls-Royce generators capable of generating 33% more electricity, and 96 vertical launch silos for system missiles.

While an Arleigh Burke Flight IV was previously in the works, the type was canceled in 2014 as the US Navy prioritized building nuclear ballistic missile (SSBN) submarines over surface warships. The Arleigh Burke Flight IVs would have had the same air defense commander capability as the obsolete Ticonderoga-class cruisers.

The CRS report, meanwhile, asks whether the US Navy has fully considered the required operational capabilities of the DDG(X), beyond outclassing comparable warships of near-peer opponents.

notes Bradley Martin in an interview with Naval News in January 2023 that the DDG(X) needs longer-range weapons, better command and control capabilities over dispersed units, the ability to supplement naval vertical launch systems, and an improved ability to use decoys and other decoy systems.

In addition, the CRS report also asks whether the US Navy has considered the transition from the Arleigh Burke class to the DDG(X) in terms of procurement and industrial base. Global Courant reported in February 2023 that while the US has seven naval shipyards, China has 13 facilities, each with more capacity than all seven US naval shipyards combined.

The DDG(X) may not be the right design. Image: Ships Hub/Facebook/Screengrab

Such formidable naval building skill has made the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N) the largest in the world with 340 ships, while the US Navy is now the second largest with 280 ships. The PLA-N is expected to grow to 400 ships by 2025 and 440 by 2030, with much of that growth coming from large combatants such as cruisers and destroyers.

In contrast, the Biden administration’s 2023 plan for the purchase and retirement of naval vessels, in three alternative scenarios, would all see the U.S. fleet shrink and then expand over the next decade, according to a Congress Budget Office. report.

While US ships are more advanced, quality cannot replace quantity and physical presence, with the US Navy potentially placing too much faith in exorbitantly overpriced and unproven designs and technology.


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The design of the US Navy’s DDG(X) destroyer is riddled with holes

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