Video Above: Navy Connects Air, Surface, Underseas Drones
Could there be USS Zumwalt-like elements of stealth or radar signature reduction initiatives explored by Navy and industry weapons developers as they craft and ultimately decide upon a new hull for its next-generation future destroyer intended to sail into the 2060s?
The answer is not yet clear, yet the Navy has shown an initial, pre-decisional rendering of its new ship and indicated it will focus on improved “signatures.” At the same time the service is also being clear to explain that the ship is a follow on to the existing, less stealthy DDG 51 class.
DDG(X), DDG 51 & Zumwalt Class Ships
“As you might have noticed last year, we were being called the large surface combatant, we were designated officially DDG(X) to symbolize that we are the follow on to the DDG 51 program,” Katie Connelly, the deputy program manager for the DDG(X) program office, told an audience at the 2022 Surface Navy Association Symposium.
Given that the ship is intended as a follow on to DDG 51, it seems unlikely the Navy will build a wave-piercing Tumblehome hull like that used for the Navy’s stealthy Zumwalt class. However, Connelly emphasized that the rendering provided at the Surface Navy Association was preliminary and pre-decisional and by no means indicative of what they ultimately plan to do. She makes reference to signatures, perhaps suggesting that the new DDG(X) will have fewer protruding structures or edges likely to generate a clear radar return signal.
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Of course a destroyer-sized ship could not ever be fully “stealthy” in the sense many think of it in terms of aircraft, however the concept is to make the ship appear smaller and essentially “other” than the warship it is. For instance, following testing on the Navy’s USS Zumwalt, Naval Sea Systems Command released a statement saying the ship appears like a small “fishing boat” to radar systems, thus making it much less detectable or “discoverable” at certain ranges. It might be possible to architect a smoother, less jagged hull and exterior for that purpose, yet still embrace elements of the combat system from DDG 51.
“Decreasing vulnerability focuses on improved signatures, mobility looks at increased range time on station and efficiency. And the capability we are focusing on is a flight three combat system at this point with two additional RAM launchers and, and upgrades in the future as technology comes available,” Connely explained.
The Zumwalt, for instance, is heavily armed and propelled by an Integrated Power System electric drive able to generate electricity as well as bring certain quieting advantages. The external configuration of the Zumwalt is extremely smooth and rounded, meaning it seems to be deliberately devoid of sharp edges and protruding structures such as large mast antennas, side-mounted weapons and numerous pointed gun systems. Of course this would seem to be an effort to lower the ship’s radar signature.
The DDG(X) is building an IPS as well and is of course heavily invested in using new innovations to optimize the amount of energy storage and power distribution. Expeditionary mobile power is extremely crucial for systems such as laser weapons, advanced computing, sensors, radar and new generations of electronics and digital command and control.
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.