The Arleigh Burke class of destroyers are arguably the new Fletchers. They are “the third most numerous class of destroyer to serve in the U.S. Navy, after the Fletcher and Gearing classes; besides the 62 vessels of this class (comprising 21 of Flight I, 7 of Flight II and 34 of Flight IIA) in service by 2013, up to a further 42 (of Flight III) have been envisaged.”
That’s incredible in an age of multibillion dollar ships.
Although classified as “destroyers” they are the size of World War 2 heavy cruisers. They can engage targets in space to those lurking at the bottom of the sea. They are used to deluge enemies with Tomahawks or defend the fleet. The newer versions of the Arleigh Burke destroyers have an organic remote minehunting capability, the A/N WLD-1 Remote Mine-hunting System. This is actually a remotely controlled, mini-diesel submarine that breathes through a snorkel and carries around a towed sonar, or possibly a smaller remote vehicle.
It’s main purpose is to hunt mines. But it can also be used to hunt Chinese diesel electric subs in confined waters. The destroyer stays a long way off and sends this miniature diesel sub after you. Either that, or they run it from a van on the beach. The A/N WLD-1 is not only used on the Burkes, but are also designed for the Littoral Combat Ships. The trend is for ships to serve as bases and combat nodes for remote and autonomous platforms. They are becoming “motherships” carrying robotic packages. There is actually a proposal to convert the LPD-17 amphibious class platform into a kind of ballistic missile defense battleship, a role now handled by — you guessed it — the Burkes.
But current and legacy ships have one big limitation: they lack electric power generation capacity. Their powerplants are designed to output mechanical energy, via the shafts of the engines. The newer systems are so power hungry (rail gun, big radars, directed energy weapons) that future ships must have a large part of their energy output available as electricity.
So the argument for the new builds, like the Gerald Ford carriers and the possible successor to the Burkes, is that they have to be designed as floating power stations to power up their energy weapons, both of the information, electromagnetic or kinetic kind. The proposed new AMDR naval radar standard is no longer your dad’s radar system and just keep it cool will require lots and lots of air conditioning. They could put it on the Burkes, but that would require modification for the larger panels.
The Navy’s ships are becoming more and more like “motherships” hosting a variety of remote weapons systems, whether these are strike aircraft, tankers or mini-submarines. We are well and truly in the 21st century now. In fact, the LA Times just announced that 20th Century Fox is no more. Twenty First Century Fox is the new name of the movie company.
The foundation of today’s international order rests upon America’s domination of the commons. I got a laugh out of reading the explanation for the Navy Seal’s insignia. It explains the trident, eagle, pistol and anchor. But it is the explanation for the anchor which might give one pause. “The anchor symbolizes the Navy, the parent service, the premier force for power projection on the planet and the guarantor of world peace.” Helluva a thing to say. But Brittania said the same in her heyday, and it’s not boasting, I guess, if it’s true.
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