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Video Above: US Congressman: Navy Needs Drones, Light Amphibious Warship and 5th-Gen Air Supremacy to Counter China

By Kris Osborn, President, Center for Military Modernization

(Washington D.C.) Firing high-powered lasers to incinerate enemy drones, jamming guidance systems for incoming anti-ship missiles, detecting missiles and approaching threats with high-powered radar and launching EW attacks to “blind” or confuse enemy radar and communications .... are all missions US Navy warships will be increasingly required to perform.

Scaling ship-fired lasers to hit larger targets and farther ranges, detecting smaller threat objects at twice the distance with radar and interfering with or disabling enemy radar with stronger EW systems are all similar operations in that they rely upon massive amounts of exportable, mobile electrical power. As enemy weapons and sensors increasingly become more dangerous, powerful and longer range, US Navy ships will need to expedite a commensurate effort to counter a new generation of potential threats, something which will require much greater levels of on-board power. It is not easy for weapons developers to integrate breakthrough levels of electrical power onto warships as the form factor must align with the available space on the vessel and power will need to be both stored and transmitted efficiently.

Navy developers have long emphasized the continued need to engineer newer, smaller form-factor, highly efficient mobile energy storage and distribution, in part with a specific mind to supporting breakthrough high-power laser weapons and radar. These technologies, and the concepts of operation associated with them, continue to be defining elements of the Navy’s DDG 51 Flight III destroyer program and now emerging DDG(X) effort.

Prime Power

In an effort to address this, Northrop Grumman is developing a new “prime power” equipment solution that leverages and consolidates existing Navy ship-board systems powered by Northrop such as SPY-6 radar and SEWIP Block III EW technology. The concept, according to Northrop Grumman developers, is to integrate power technologies the firm is already using on Navy warships and “leverage current power solutions the Navy already has.”

The technology, called Multifunction Prime Power System, or MPPS, is slated to integrate onto upgraded US Navy Arleigh Burke Class DDG 51 Flight IIA destroyers as well as the now fast emerging Flight III ships.

DDG 51 Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer

DDG 51 Arleigh Burke Class Destroyer

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“Every key weapon system, every radar comes with its own power, prime power. Think of prime power as a power substation in your neighborhood. We have developed a common power system that will support multiple radars, lasers, and every electronic warfare systems,” Bob Sacca, Northrop Grumman director, Power & Control Systems and Sykesville Site Executive, told Warrior in an interview. 

The idea with MPPS is to massively increase the efficiency and volume of power generation, power storage and power allocation or transmission. Shipboard technologies previously powered by separate systems will now be supported by one system with a smaller hardware footprint, greater power density and an ability to more efficiently “distribute” power where and as needed. MPPS is able to leverage 90-percent reuse of the power sources that now support SPY-6 and SEWIP Block 3 and reduce size and weight by 20-percent on DDG 51 Flight IIA warships.

“This multifunction prime power system is really efficient in terms of supplying power to these programs. We do have savings both in footprint and in cost. Just as importantly, we're setting the architecture up for the future of the Navy. This architecture really gives us a lot of flexibility. We can add additional sources to it, we have more power throughput, we can add energy storage if we want to support a laser or UPS,” said Matthew Superczynski , Chief Engineer for Northrop Grumman’s Power/Control Systems.

Northrop Grumman’s MPPS is intended to operate as an interim solution or precursor until the now-in-development Integrated Power and Energy System (IPES) is ready to integrate onto ships. IPES will be the next generation of MPPS, an integrated power storage and distribution system which will even more efficiently allocate and provide power to otherwise separated shipboard systems and weapons.

“This is our solution,  step towards getting a fully integrated IPES. The idea is to reduce risk and leverage existing technology, existing architectures, and make them adaptable for tomorrow's requirements because we're starting with such a mature product today,” Sacca said. 

Northrop plans to have a working MPPS prototype ready for testing with the Navy by the end of this year.

Northrop Grumman’s developmental strategy, developers explain, is to offer technologies and architectures fully aligned with the Navy approach to these ships, an effort which involves an interesting blend between new innovations and upgradeable, cutting-edge now operational systems. This kind of thinking is the impetus behind why Northrop Grumman engineered their Multifunction Prime Power System to both function in the near term and also upgrade over time to ensure continued modernization for decades into the future.

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 Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.