The US Navy structures itself to begin the replacement of destroyers Arleigh Burke

Say that the US Navy is now sailing with dead reckoning with regard to the evolution of its shipbuilding programs would be an understatement. Between the plan for 355 naval units in 2030 which will probably not be reached, the one that targeted 450 ships in 2045 presented by a departing Trump administration and which will not have survived for more than a few days once Joe Biden's team is in place, the multiple and repeated mistakes concerning ill-conceived and overpriced programs like the Zumwalt destroyers and the Littoral Combat Ships, and programs that see, with each iteration, their prices explode, the American Navy is today in a situation of great excitement, while at the same time, its main competitor designate, thethe Chinese navy, applies with method and precision a plan of rise in power which should allow it, within a few years, to gain the upper hand in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean over the Western Marines.

In order to meet this challenge, the US Navy, which must present within a few months a new industrial load plan for the renewal of its resources in the next 2 decades, is now relying on five classes of ships. likely to give it, for a time yet, the advantage over the oceans: Ford-class heavy nuclear aircraft carriers, Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines, LHA assault helicopter carriers from America class, new Constellation class frigates and Arleigh Burke Flight III class heavy destroyers. The ultimate version of the destroyers that have formed the backbone of the US Navy for the past 30 years, the Burke Flight IIIs, if they can take on the missions of the Ticonderoga cruisers in the withdrawal phase as destroyers, have nevertheless arrived. to the limits of their scalability. The Large Surface Combatant program, launched in 2015 after the abandonment of the CG (X) program which was initially supposed to replace the Ticonderoga and the failure of the Zumwalt class of destroyer which will be limited to 3 units, precisely aims to replace these ships to constitute the force of heavy strike of the US surface fleet from 2030.

After having known several versions, the hull of the Arleigh Burke destroyers has now reached the limits of its capabilities, and cannot accommodate the new systems required by the US navy.

It was in this context that a discreet ceremony was held on June 4 to celebrate the creation of a new office dedicated to the DD (X) program and tasked with designing the Arleigh Burke replacement (s) as Ticonderoga in the US Navy, after Assistant Secretary for Acquisition and Research and Development Interim Jay Stefany officially endorsed its constitution. The mission of this office will be to prepare and supervise the work aimed at the design and then the manufacture of this new class of large combatant surface ships called upon to intervene where smaller ships, such as frigates, cannot. to go. Of course, very little information is currently available regarding what this future class might be. At best, we know that the US Navy does not plan to order the first ship before 2028, and therefore that entry into service will only take place at the beginning of the next decade. One point is however widely put forward in the American communication on this subject, the integrated electric propulsion of the ship, which will be at the heart of the program, and will receive special attention.

This type of propulsion, which will become essential in the years and decades to come for many combat ships, separates the production of energy on the one hand, in this case in the form of electrical energy, from the use made of it. Traditionally, the turbines and diesel engines that equip ships directly drive the shaft line (s) actuating the propellers, and the electrical supply is either generated by generators or by alternators capturing part of the mechanical energy produced. . In an integrated electric propulsion, turbines or diesel engines produce only electricity, and induction electric motors powered by this produced energy drive the shaft lines. This makes it possible, at least from a theoretical point of view, to optimize at all times the energy production, and therefore the fuel consumption, to the energy needs of the entire ship, whether it concerns its propulsion or the liner. power to its systems.

British Daring-class Type 45 destroyers were among the first ships to have integrated electric propulsion

In addition to an obvious energy optimization, and a certain conceptual simplification of the ship's energy diagram, Integrated Electric Propulsion also makes it possible to supply systems requiring large amounts of electrical energy without unnecessarily weighing down the ship by multiplying the energy sources. It is in particular a very efficient architecture for the integration of directed energy weapon systems, such as high-power lasers, or for electric guns of the Rail Gun type, both requiring significant electrical power to operate. In addition, the progress made in recent years in the storage of electrical energy with the new generations of battery, allow ships to operate in electric mode like, for example, submarines with conventional propulsion, therefore of material. very discreet, even to have a reserve of energy ready to use to respond to a threat in a very short time, even when the turbines are at idle.

We are hardly surprised, therefore, that this mode of propulsion is at the heart of the objectives of the DD (X) program, the US Navy having never made a secret of its ambitions in the field of directed weapons in the future, in particular to provide anti-drone and anti-missile protection for its ships. This new propulsion, as well as the arrival of new weapon systems such as hypersonic missiles requiring silos longer than the current Mk41s, and new radar / sonar detection and protection systems, cannot be adapted to the hull of the Arleigh Burke already at saturation limit in its Flight III standard. It is therefore understandable the statements of Admiral Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, who indicated that from now on, the design of the combat ships of the US Navy would be done by starting from the systems to define a hull, and not by adapting the existing single-hull systems. In this regard, the DD (X) program represents the very characterization of this new paradigm.

Construction of Russian Lider-class heavy destroyers not expected to start until 2025

It must be said that this program will have particularly difficult challenges to meet, while Russia and especially China have also begun the design of their new generation destroyers. For Moscow, it will be the heavy destroyer class Lider, very heavily armed and potentially nuclear-powered ships with a tonnage of over 12.000 tonnes, intended to replace the Slava and Kirov-class cruisers from the end of of the decade, if the plan nebulously announced by Vladimir Putin in 2019 came to be respected. On the other hand, for Beijing, they are building Type 055A destroyers, an evolution of the already very noticed Type 055s, should start in the coming months. Only a few rumors have filtered out concerning this ship, which will be larger than its elder and will therefore exceed 12.000 tonnes in order to be able to accommodate anti-ballistic ship missiles potentially derived from Type 26 or 21D, and which should also be equipped with integrated electric propulsion to power directed energy weapon systems and a Rail Gun already tested for several years by Beijing. In keeping with Chinese planning, which is still very precise, these ships are due to enter service from 2025, and will most likely be the most powerful combatant surface vessels at the time.

One thing is certain, the small office in charge of the DD (X) program which has just been created will no longer have the leisure to fail, as programs like Zumwalt, LCS or CG (X) could still afford. . From now on, each year lost in technological and / or budgetary errors will be paid in the Sino-American naval balance of power, with the risk of seeing the United States and the US Navy taken down by Beijing and the Chinese Navy, the latter capitalizing each year, more confidence and operational capacities through the application of a rigorous, ambitious industrial and operational plan with formidable efficiency. Why would it deny it, since in 2021, the PLA will receive more new destroyers than the US Navy will receive ships, all models combined.

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