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Old 07-16-2019, 09:25 AM
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Arrow US Navy’s new ‘cruiser’: changing the game?

US Navy’s new ‘cruiser’: changing the game?
BY: Nick Childs - Military Balance Blog - 7-16-19

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In the new, more contested maritime domain, the United States Navy has hinted that the new design of its future Large Surface Combatant will resemble the Zumwalt-class large destroyers. But given technology trends, the US Navy may end up looking for a different balance of platforms to sustain current capabilities, Nick Childs argues.
As if the United States Navy does not have enough on its plate, it will soon need to start making decisions about what it calls its future Large Surface Combatant (LSC), essentially its new-generation ‘cruiser’. There have been hints recently that it might look somewhat akin to the dramatic Zumwalt-class large destroyers. But how will it fit into the US Navy’s future fleet plans? And will it move the capability game on?

That was certainly the case with the ships that the LSC would initially replace, the 10,000-tonne Ticonderoga-class cruisers. They introduced a step-change in air-defence capability with the Aegis combat system, to take on what was seen at the time as a more challenging Soviet air and missile threat at sea.

As well as becoming the vital air-defence command ships for US Navy carrier strike groups, the Ticonderogas developed into arguably the most capable multi-purpose surface combatants, with 122-cell vertical launch systems (VLSs). But they are ageing, and the US Navy has been in a long-running fight with the US Congress about pensioning at least some of them off as more of the newer Aegis-equipped Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have come online.

Zumwalt design
It was at a naval engineering symposium in June that the US Navy programme officer for ships, Rear Admiral William Galinis, suggested that the new design would look more like the rather unconventional Zumwalt class than the navy’s other existing large surface combatants. In part, that will be because of the requirement for survivability, including stealthiness, in the new, more contested maritime domain.

But there is also the implication that they will be big, in order to have greater growth capacity, both for power generation and weapons systems. Although the US Navy seems to balk at describing them as cruisers, that is what they are likely to be. After all, even what will probably turn out to be the final Flight III version of the Arleigh Burke design is verging on the cruiser class (and that design is now regarded as having reached its growth limits). And the Zumwalts, at 16,000 tonnes full-load displacement, are much larger than the Ticonderoga-class cruisers. From an original planned class of 32, to just three ships that looked rather like ‘unwanted orphans’ and a dead-end experiment, as the cost of their technologies escalated, the Zumwalts’ original littoral role appeared less and less credible and relevant. The navy has sought to re-role them for a niche anti-ship mission, but the Zumwalts may yet turn into the genus of a major new US Navy ship class.

Future capability
Initially, it is planned that the LSC would probably use an incremental version of the combat system in Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. But in a first Request for Information (RFI) sent out to the defence industry in February 2019, the US Navy again hinted at an ambition for a possible step-change in future capability, perhaps to deal both with the potential increased stand-off ranges of opponents’ weapons and also the increasingly concerning threat of hypersonic weapons. The RFI spoke of a requirement for the ships’ VLS system ‘to accommodate longer and larger diameter missiles for increased speed and range’, and for the design to support ‘360-degree coverage with directed energy weapons’.

There are good grounds to argue that the US Navy does need a replacement to fulfil the lynchpin air-defence command-ship role of the Ticonderogas, but also to cut an impressive dash in major presence ‘flying the flag’ missions on the world’s oceans. After all, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy has just underscored its blue-water ambitions with the arrival into service of the first of its approximately 13,000-tonne Type-055 cruisers, which, with a 112-cell VLS system, are perhaps the closest challengers in any navy so far to the US Navy’s Ticonderogas. The LSC could turn out to be a riposte to the Type-055, which could indeed move the game on further.

Platform balance
And yet there is an argument that LSC may be too linear an approach to sustaining the current Ticonderoga cruiser’s capabilities in the long term, given technology trends. With an increased emphasis on uninhabited and remote systems, and with the US Navy’s plans for its Small Surface Combatant force having morphed from the unloved and lightly armed Littoral Combat Ship into the heavier and more capable FFG(X) future frigate programme, the US admirals may in the end be looking for a different balance of platforms with more distributed capabilities in the future.

There probably will be a place for the LSC in some form in the future, but perhaps not quite the one many now envisage. Whatever the US Navy decides, its recipe could appear on the menu of other navies pursuing high-end capabilities, just as the advent of the Aegis system on the Ticonderoga-class cruisers became the benchmark for navies in the 1980s.

This analysis originally featured on the IISS Military Balance+, the online database that provides indispensable information and analysis for users in government, the armed forces, the private sector, academia, the media and more. Customise, view, compare and download data instantly, anywhere, anytime. The Military Balance+ includes comprehensive data on the naval and maritime forces of the United States and other countries worldwide.

About this writer: Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security

Nick is responsible for the Institute’s analysis of naval forces and maritime security, and for the data on sea power capabilities published in the flagship annual Military Balance. It is also his job to formulate and deliver research projects in these areas, and contribute to other Institute publications and activities, including conferences and consultancy.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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