I’ve discussed before that the Arleigh Burke-class is the best destroyer afloat today. It’s got a good radar, plenty of missile capacity, and comes at a pretty reasonable price due to its large production run. Competitors like the Daring class cost entirely too much and deliver entirely too little. Let’s look at a a follow on. Nothing lasts forever, and something newer, with newer systems, will be fun to sketch. This will be my version of something like the Zumwalt class. Though, because I prefer things evolutionary, it will be rather less ambitious. Admiral Zumwalt would have wanted it that way, anyway.
We’re not going to compete directly with the Burkes in terms of size, because that makes it really hard to justify the changes. And we’ve already sketched smaller. In case the title didn’t give the game up, we’re going bigger.
As always, we must first define our mission. Being a large cruiser, we’d like it to focus on air defense and air control, with plenty of land attack capability (i.e. plenty of missile tubes). We’d also like reasonable antiship capability and some antisubmarine capability, though this last is negotiable. I’ll pencil in some nice, off-the-shelf sonar systems now, with the understanding that designers can make adjustments as needed for cost reasons there.
On to the sketch! First thing to do is to forget about the stealth nonsense baked into the DDG-1000 design. Some low-observability features are a good thing, but the excessive stealth optimization of the Zumwalts with their special superstructure and ridiculous tumblehome hull is silly. A more normal hull design, bow raked forward, has far better seakeeping, and that’s much more important. Not only is it a patently obvious ship if one bothers to look out their windows, but we’d expect it to be able to handle Air Defense and Air Control, which means the radars have to be on, which means it will be pumping out electrons like the Las Vegas strip. And if we don’t turn on the radars, what exactly is protecting the carriers? Accepting that not every new design has to be a ghost’s shadow will help keep costs down. We need to limit the use of new technologies in new designs so the costs don’t explode. Nobody bats 1,000 with new designs. Some will fail, and we need to be resilient about this. Also, a more conservative design means we’ll be able to reuse some things from existing designs. Or, test out some new stuff elsewhere. Like we used to.
There you have it. Some gentle angles, avoid corner reflectors, keep the nice clipper bow. As a side effect, that’s a lot prettier.
Next: radars. I really like the original, un-neutered suite planned for the Zumwalts, namely the SPY-3 and the SPY-4. The SPY-3 is an X-band AESA radar, optimized for best tracking accuracy. The SPY-4, deleted from the DDG-1000s to save costs and still fitted on the Ford-class Carriers, is an S-band AESA radar optimized for high volume search. This split of functionality mirrors what NATO testing found to be best in the late 90s. These were integrated into a dual-band array system, which is some pretty revolutionary stuff. I’m fine with that as one of the key new technologies embarked, though the emitters could also be separated. The overall concept is right though. And, of course Aegis-type integrated fire control and combat management systems.
As a bonus, from an emissions perspective, a cruiser with a dual band radar looks a lot like a carrier with a dual band radar. Or maybe that other contact is another cruiser and the carrier is somewhere else. Or has its radars off. Emissions doesn’t tell you. With the right ECM and radar signature management, your active radar won’t help you either at range. Better go look, and hope you can radio your buddies back before you eat a missile.
On to missiles, and the tubes that launch them. The Mk. 57 can handle a greater volume of exhaust gasses than the Mk. 41, but the sheer number of deployed Mk. 41 tubes means missiles will be developed for that. Also, while the Mk. 57 is a bigger tube, it’s not much bigger, and there’s no missile around that would not fit in a Mk. 41 but would fit in a Mk. 57. Plus, the Mk. 57 modules are rather bulkier than those of the Mk. 41. So Mk. 41 it is! And we’d like to pack her with missiles. To hell with 80 missiles on nearly 15,000 tons. If we can’t do better than the 128 cells of a Ticonderoga, we should go home. Ideally we’d fit four of the big 64-missile clusters off the Ticonderogas for a total of 256 missile tubes. This gives us plenty of space for SAMs, including ballistic missile defense capable ones, LRASMs, Tomahawks, and VL-ASROCs.
Now, let’s talk about the gun. DDG-1000 originally had an ambitious vertical gun with guided shells, but this was shelved. The impact of development costs remains on the final design. I am not sold at all on ambitious gun projects that aren’t railguns, and those are nowhere near ready. The best estimates on the range of the Advanced Gun System put the ships entirely too close to shore. I’m fine with 155 mm, but 155 mm without being able to share shells (and shell development projects) with the army is patently absurd. And I’m still not entirely sold on the need these days, given how many other options there are for getting firepower on the beach, and how nasty coastal defenses can be. For my design, I’m quite satisfied with the 127mm/64 LW gun from Oto Melara. 127mm is a pretty standard naval gun caliber, and there are plenty of guided shells in that caliber under development.
There’s no need for extra antiship missile launchers given plenty of VLS cells and LRASM, so we don’t need to worry about those.
Point defense duties will be handled by at least two Rolling Airframe Missile launchers, mounted, well, wherever there’s room. Possibly amidships. Possibly fore and aft, which is rather more traditional.
Since we’re not obsessing over stealth, we can throw in some remote weapons stations and pintle mounted heavy machine guns to hose down any suicide bombers. Who will have no trouble finding a stealth boat because they use their eyeballs, not radar.
For propulsion, we’re going to go for Integrated Electric Propulsion, which has also been done on the Zumwalts. And could have been tested somewhere else. There’s no reason why it should be hard. Generators are run by diesel engines and gas turbines, and electric motors drive the screws. I’d like to take some time on a demonstrator to explore steerable propulsion pods for the electric motors in a military context, specifically focusing on cost, agility, and noise.
Helicopter fit is the usual hangar for two SH-60-size birds and beartrap-equipped deck. No reason to change it. Though, given the size, we should probably expand the hangar a bit to accommodate several drones.
Antisubmarine warfare is not our focus, but we should make a bit of effort to be prepared. A nice bow sonar and variable-depth towed array will do nicely, as will the usual pair of triple 325mm torpedo tubes amidships. Something like the Thales UMS 4110 CL sonar for the bow and a Captas 4 in the towed role.