Video Above: Columbia-class Submarine
Beneath the surface of the visible, high-profile discussion and concern about the pace of Chinese Naval expansion, the US Navy has been surging forward with a new fleet of high-tech destroyers intended to introduce new maritime warfare possibilities.
The US Navy currently has seven new DDG 51 Flight III destroyers under construction, modern up-gunned variants of its signature warship built with new sources of on-board power, breakthrough levels of high-sensitivity, long-range radar and a next-generation combat system.
Aegis Baseline 10
The signature element of the Navy’s Flight III destroyers is a software, radar, computing and fire control ship combat system called Aegis Baseline 10. The centerpiece of the system is a new extremely precise radar system known as the AN/SPY 6 v1, a technology said by developers to operate with an ability to detect objects twice as far and one half the size compared to existing radars.
As part of the integration with Aegis Baseline 10, the radar operates with an ability to return radar renderings with 35-times more precision and fidelity than current technology. Navy weapons developers explained that new cooling technologies and electricity systems were needed to support the new, much more powerful radar system.
Video Above: Aegis Combat System
“The Aegis baseline 10 combat system was really the key and the capability that's on the ship. We added the new AC plants and the 4160 electric plant that support the new combat system and the radar that we're putting on there,” Capt. Seth Miller, Program Manager, DDG 51, told an audience at the 2022 Surface Navy Association Symposium.
An ability to simultaneously detect multiple incoming threats at much greater ranges and with much improved image fidelity can of course give ship commanders a much larger time window with which to determine the optimal countermeasure, response or attack plan needed to stop an incoming attack.
Part of the advantage with Baseline 10 is that it can synthesize ballistic missile defense operations with lower-altitude, closer in air and cruise missile defense. Aegis Baseline 10 reduces the hardware footprint through the use of common technical standards, streamlines functionality and allows for continual performance upgrades through software as new technologies emerge.
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Alongside the addition of Flight III destroyers, the Navy is also still building upgraded Flight IIA DDG 51 ships and retrofitting some of the older ones with upgraded SPY 6 radar variants. This can ensure greater interoperability between newly arriving Flight III warships and the services’ existing fleet. Extending this further, there are a group of US allies, such as Japan, who also operate Aegis-enabled warships, something which greatly improves possibilities for multi-national training operations or even combat missions if needed.
Using a high-efficiency, high power-density conducting material known as Gallium Nitride, the Navy and Raytheon’s new AN/SPY-6 can amplify high-power signals at microwave frequency and enable commanders to locate and discriminate multiple approaching threats at one time. This is one of the key advantages associated with the imminent arrival of the Navy’s DDG 51 Flight III destroyers. The US Navy is surging along with construction of its first seven Flight IIIs as a well to propel the force into a new realm of operational combat using much greater amounts of electricity and mobile power for advanced weapons such as lasers.
Having a greater power-generation capacity is also vital to the Flight III destroyers because it is what enables and sustains the emerging SPY 6 radar system.
Some of the newer technical characteristics of the SPY-6 include integrated hardware and software engineered with common interfaces. The new components, called TI 16 for “Technical Integration” enable the Aegis radar to add next-generation weapons such as electronic warfare (EW) applications or laser weapons as they become available.
SPY 6 and other radar systems work by sending a series of electromagnetic signals or “pings” at the speed of light, which bounce off an object or threat and send back return-signal information identifying the shape, size, speed, or distance of the object encountered. Analyzing the speed, frequency, range, and variation of the return signals enables radar operators to develop a rendering or precise “picture” of what a specific threat may be. More sensitive radar such as SPY-6 will therefore enable ships to see smaller objects at greater distances and provide a higher degree of detailed information about objects, at times effectively distinguish threats from one another or from non-threatening objects.
The SPY 6 can distinguish approaching enemy anti-ship missiles close to the surface from less relevant objects and also track higher-altitude ballistic missiles on the same system. Given this scope, the SPY 6 radar systems streamline otherwise disparate fire-control technologies; the SPY 6 can cue short-range, closer-in interceptors as well as longer-range ballistic missile interceptors such as an SM-3.
The DDG Flight III’s are also being built with the same Rolls Royce power turbine engineered for the DDG 1000 but are designed with some special fuel-efficiency enhancements. Miller explained that some structural adjustments to the hull were necessary to accommodate the new systems.
“There's about a four-foot extension on each side from the flight deck that follows the hull form down to the waterline that we added to the ship. Also, just to offset that added weight on the ship, we added some additional structure down low on the hull,” Capt. Seth Miller, Program Manager, DDG 51, told an audience at the 2022 Surface Navy Association Symposium.
In total, the Navy plans to acquire at least 10 or more Flight III ships as well as use its upgradeable combat system as a foundation for its new, now-in-development DDG X next-generation destroyer ship.
Upcoming milestones for the first Flight III ship include preparations and testing on the ship’s new generator and engine slated to develop over the next few months, Miller explained. The first Flight III destroyer arrives in 2023.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.