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The US Navy is learning lessons from costly shipbuilding mistakes

    BATH, Maine (AP) — The U.S. Navy appears to have learned from its precious lessons after cramming too much new technology onto warships and accelerating them into production as it began building new destroyers that will become the backbone of the fleet. forms.

    Military officials say they are delaying the design and procurement of next-generation destroyers to ensure new technology, such as high-powered lasers and hypersonic missiles, mature before construction continues.

    The Navy has learned “sometimes the hard way, if we go too fast we make big mistakes,” said Adm. Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations.

    ‘Let’s be deliberate. Let’s not let our eyes get bigger than our stomachs and get ahead of ourselves,” Gilday said at an event for defense industry officials in San Diego last week.

    The Navy wants to turn the page on recent shipbuilding blunders.

    Several newer battleships designed for speed are being retired prematurely after problems plagued them. A $13.3 billion aircraft carrier experienced additional costs from new catapults that launch aircraft. Workers completed construction of a stealth destroyer before scrapping the advanced gun system already installed.

    For the new ship, the Navy is reducing risk by conducting more land tests and borrowing the radar and targeting system from the newest destroyers soon to join the fleet, the lieutenant commander said. Javan Rasnake, spokesman for the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition.

    It also works with shipbuilders and designers to fine-tune the ship’s blueprint, cost estimates, and workforce and delivery forecasts, Rasnake said.

    The Navy still plans to use new technologies on the destroyer.

    Last week, it awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.2 billion contract for hypersonic missiles that travel five times faster than sound and can be launched by destroyers. Last summer, it awarded the first design contract for the new ship equipped with those missiles and lasers powerful enough to shoot down planes.

    Matt Caris, a defense analyst at Avascent, said it’s important the Navy gets it right by balancing the best technology that is reliable, affordable and feasible.

    “The Navy is trying to thread the needle with some potentially revolutionary capabilities in as accessible and evolutionary a process as possible. This was a lesson learned from the Navy’s laundry list of nefarious takeover programs,” he said.

    Some worry about history repeating itself.

    There are new naval leaders overseeing many programs and “it’s easy to imagine them making similar mistakes again with a new cast of characters,” says Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, a security think tank.

    The Navy is juggling its priorities as it searches not only for a new destroyer, but also for a new attack submarine and a replacement for the F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet.

    The Navy is in a difficult position because the Biden administration is not interested in a drastic increase in the military budget, said Bryan Clark, a defense analyst at the Hudson Institute. Research and development alone would cost an additional $10 to $20 billion for the destroyer, submarine and jet, he said, representing a large portion of the $220 billion naval budget.

    A series of fast warships hugging the coast epitomized shipbuilding mistakes that the Navy is trying to avoid. Critics said early versions were too lightly armored to survive combat. One version of the craft, known as a littoral combat ship, had propulsion problems. Some ships broke down and had to be towed. Plans for a submarine detection system were scrapped.

    Combined, the cost of the first ships in that program, the low-profile destroyer Zumwalt and the Ford-class aircraft carrier, rose $6.8 billion in today’s dollars, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

    “They digested that lesson,” Clark said. “Part of what you’re seeing is the recognition that the underlying technologies aren’t ready yet. They don’t want to drive the program where the ship goes into production before the technology is ready.”

    Gilday, the Navy’s top officer, said the transition to the new destroyers is likely to begin in the “2032 time frame”.

    That means shipyards in Maine and Mississippi will continue to make existing Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. They hold the Navy’s record for longest production run for large surface warships.

    At Maine’s Bath Iron Works, where the first Arleigh Burke was built in 1998, shipbuilders are happy to continue building the existing ships while testing new designs.

    Charles Krugh, president of the shipyard, said shipbuilders prefer to take extra time to make sure the technology and design are right.

    “Obviously, if we get a fully designed ship, we’ll be a lot more productive and efficient,” Krugh said.


    Follow David Sharp on Twitter @David_Sharp_AP