The Navy's New Destroyer Isn't Ready, Forcing It to Buy More Old Arleigh Burkes

David Axe

Key point: The Navy needs destroyers one way or another.

The U.S. Navy might not have any choice but to buy more of its venerable Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. It’s a risky proposition.

Delays in designing a new large surface combatant, or LSC, could compel the fleet to develop yet another version of the Burke, which has been in production in a succession of increasingly capable -- and heavy -- variants since the late 1980s.

Budgetary pressure and uncertainty about the LSC’s design “are forcing the service to think about what the Arleigh Burke program will look like beyond the current multi-year contract for the Flight III configuration,” USNI News reporter Megan Eckstein reported, citing the Navy’s program executive officer for ships, Rear Adm. Bill Galinis.

The Flight III, the current version of the Burke, itself is a gap-filler. The Navy commissioned the Flight III design in the mid-2000s after repeated failures to develop a brand-new class of destroyer.

The $2-billion Flight III is slightly bigger than earlier Burkes are and features a new radar and more power generation. A Burke-class destroyer is around 500 feet long and displaces around 9,000 tons of water. Armament includes nearly 100 missile cells plus guns.

The Navy through 2025 is building 13 Flight III Burkes to join 74 Burkes from earlier variants. The Navy expects each destroyer to remain in service at least 40 years, making the Burkes the most numerous and arguably most important ships in the fleet for the foreseeable future.

Besides the Burke, the Navy’s only other in-production destroyer type is the three-ship Zumwalt class. With 1980s-vintage Ticonderoga-class cruisers reaching the end of the economical service lives, the Navy had hoped to begin buying a new large surface combatant starting around 2023. Now the fleet plans to start production around 2026.

The LSC could look a lot like the Zumwalt with its roomy, downward-sloping hull and edge-mounted missile cells, Galinis said at a June 2019 symposium.

The new LSC also would have the space, sensors and communications capabilities to fully replace the cruisers as the air-defense-commander vessels for carrier strike groups. The air-defense commander coordinate air- and missile-defense for as many as a dozen surrounding ships.

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