March 1, 2008  

Where’s the risk?

Each of the new ship designs brings its own set of potential problems:


The CVN 78 Gerald R. Ford design features a number of new elements over the previous Nimitz-class carriers, including a new hull, new reactor plant and redesigned flight deck. A new dual band radar is being developed — the size of which is key to a much smaller island that enables new flight deck operation patterns — and the EMALS magnetic launch system represents a radical improvement. The Navy first planned to put off installation of the new launch system until later ships in the class but decided to move it to the first ship to placate former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s push for transformation. Although the EMALS passed a critical design review in November, trials of the new system so far have involved only so-called test articles. Real aircraft won’t be launched until 2009.

Potential worst case: The EMALS system isn’t ready when the ship is complete and the carrier operates without the ability to launch conventional fixed-wing aircraft.


The DDG 1000 Zumwalt advanced destroyer design incorporates 10 major new technologies. Although Navy officials publicly remain steadfast in their confidence that the design carries little risk, experts note that problems will likely occur in integrating so many new systems in a single platform. Concern also remains among a number of professionals that there might be stability flaws in the new tumblehome hull design, which has never been applied to a real ship. Those concerns might surface when the Navy begins open conversation about a new study of design alternatives for the CG(X) cruiser; a Center for Naval Analyses study reportedly is complete, but briefings have been closely held and public release of the study has been delayed several months.

Potential worst case: Cost increases limit the program to two or three ships. The hull proves unstable and results in a catastrophe at sea or severe restrictions.


Concerns about the LCS program have focused almost exclusively on the acquisition plan, which disintegrated over the past year because of cost overruns that have more than doubled the original $220 million per-ship price tag. But lost in the focus on the building plan is the fact that numerous concepts key to the LCS will need time to mature. The Navy will need years of real-time experience to work out problems with the multiple-crewing and mission detachment plans; proper employment of the mission modules and their multiple, complex parts; numerous command-and-control issues; systems integration problems; concepts of operations for the ships; and logistics and training issues. The two competing designs have differing qualities and the service will have only a relatively brief time to evaluate them before choosing a single design to build in 2009, and Navy Secretary Donald Winter said last year the final design could well incorporate significant elements from each competitor, in effect creating a new design. Another consideration: the General Dynamics design introduces an aluminum-hulled trimaran into the Navy, which has never operated a warship with that feature. Only a handful of commercial aluminum tri-hull ferries approach the size of the LCS, and none of those have been in service more than a few years. Long-term forecasts about the structural stability and integrity of the aluminum trimaran are based only on theoretical models.

Potential worst case: The current mission modules prove too complex and are simplified. The aluminum trimaran hulls fail after a few years in operation and are scrapped.

Affordability: Veteran government cost analysts outside the Navy have testified repeatedly to Congress that the Navy’s current 30-year shipbuilding plan is unaffordable. All forecast serious overruns for the carrier and destroyer, and they correctly predicted last year’s LCS cost jumps. AFJ