The Blog

Top 10 Letters

DD(X), the Miers nomination, and Larry Miller's return.

12:00 AM, Oct 12, 2005
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

THE DAILY STANDARD welcomes letters to the editor. Letters will be edited for length and clarity and must include the writer's name, city, and state.


The September 8 Daily Standard piece by Michael Goldfarb on the DD(X) destroyer stressed that this ship with, its two Advanced Gun System (AGS) 155 mm (6.1-inch) "guns," signals a return of guns to the fleet. The widely touted (by the Navy) LRLAP (Long Range Land Attack Projectile) to be fired in the AGS is actually a guided missile that begins as a seven foot long round and impacts at only 63 lbs (including 23.8 lbs of high explosives). Its rising, then gliding, trajectory also makes it substantially slower than a conventional round. Most importantly a 63 lb round is decidedly ineffective in penetration and in general lethality. This round will weigh less than a conventional 5-inch round, which, in 2000, the Marines declared did not meet their lethality requirements (even with extended range). The DD(X)'s prime function, however, is to provide naval surface fire support (NSFS) for the Marines.

The Navy describes LRLAP rounds raining down on a hapless enemy with great precision and volume, at a rate of ten per minute per gun. But there is the matter of cost. A conservative estimate of the cost of this round is about $100,000. Thus, each gun will be blowing away $1 million every ten minutes. The high cost of the LRLAP explains why two senior Marine Corps generals testified on April 8, 2005 that each DD(X) will have only 70 of these rounds. (A Navy 2003 study indicated that these guided rounds would be too expensive for volume fire.) Presumably the rest of the total loadout of 900 rounds will be conventional 155 mm rounds, now under development. The problem here is that these rounds are to have a range of only 27.6 miles (24 nm), whereas, like all of our present active vulnerable ships, the DD(X) cannot risk getting closer than 29.7 miles (25nm) to the shore. There's a disconnect here.

Goldfarb is right about the need for guns, but here is a real solution. Navy's estimated $3.3 billion for the first DD(X) could, within two years, reactivate, thoroughly modernize (adding, to each, 96 vertical missile cells), and support both battleships. For NSFS, this buys us eighteen 16-inch guns with projectiles (all accurized with GPS or Guidance Integrated Fuzes) from 2,700 lb AP deep penetrators, which can take out most hardened targets in North Korea, down to successfully tested 530 lb 115 mile range guided 11-inch sabot rounds, plus 24 five-inch guns firing extended range BETM rounds impacting at 69 lbs.

Before the first DD(X) is fielded, we probably could field a 16-inch guided scramjet projectile that would go 460 miles in nine minutes, a performance that Pratt & Whitney experts, in 2003, declared "feasible." This would revolutionize naval warfare. The Navy's estimate of rail guns by 2020 is optimistic. In any case, this will still be a relatively small round, hardly a rival of the scramjet round in either size, range or availability.

Goldfarb accepts the Navy's cost estimate of $3.3 billion for the first ship (hardly a bargain); however, on July 20, 2005 a Congressional Budget Office rep testified that the first DD(X), due to be fielded in 2015 (not two in 2012), will cost $4.7 billion. Other estimates go as high as $7 billion each (Defense News May 2, 2005). Commenting on DD(X), on August 9, 2005, Chairman of the House Projection Forces Subcommittee Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) stated: "We're now down to a little more than a technology demonstration platform."

It is ironical that Goldfarb began his piece with the Russian fleet's defeat by the Japanese in 1905. One of the causes of this defeat was that the Russian ships had notoriously unstable tumblehome hulls, just as the DD(X) will. Test Director for the DD(X), Barry I. Fox, described its hull as "very tricky" and "it's the most difficult ship I've ever worked on" (Washington Post, February 8, 2004). This is a high price to pay for being stealthy, since there are many ways any ship operating in the littorals can be seen. This ship will also be vulnerable to ubiquitous anti-ship missiles, especially its highly inflammable superstructure. Its crew is now down to 110 for a ship the size of a World War II German pocket battleship. The Navy claims it will be protected by "automated damage control," an untested and unproven solution to what is normally a very highly manpower-intensive task.

--William L. Stearman, PhD

Executive Director, United States Naval Fire Support Association