USS Zumwalt’s Recent Pacific Underway is ‘First Step’ for Future of the Class, Says PACFLEET Commander

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ahead of next year’s installation of hypersonic missiles, the Navy took one of its most advanced warships out for a three-month underway in the Western Pacific to test the ship’s capabilities and reliability, the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet told USNI News. USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), this month, wrapped up an operational testing period […]

USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) returns to San Diego, Nov. 10, 2022. US Navy Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ahead of next year’s installation of hypersonic missiles, the Navy took one of its most advanced warships out for a three-month underway in the Western Pacific to test the ship’s capabilities and reliability, the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet told USNI News.

USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), this month, wrapped up an operational testing period in the U.S. Pacific Fleet, giving the service the opportunity to workout the destroyer’s systems and the crew ahead of upgrades to outfit it with weapons

“We learned a lot. [The] main thing we learned about was how to sustain it as it’s often operated,” Adm. Samuel Paparo told USNI News on Friday at the annual Military Reporters and Editors conference.
“It’s an exquisite capability with a ton of promise.”

Paparo acknowledged the program’s difficult past – the Navy commissioned the ship six years ago, and it has mostly been used as a test platform out of San Diego. That history is why the service did not publicly announce Zumwalt leaving to operate in PACFLEET, he said.

During its time underway from early August through early November, Zumwalt operated in both U.S. 3rd Fleet and U.S. 7th Fleet, making port calls in Hawaii, Guam and Yokosuka, Japan.

“We’re really kind of worker-like in getting the Zumwalt west of the dateline, operating her, operating her systems, stretching and training its crew, integrating it with the rest of the fleet to bring its capabilities to bear,” Paparo said.

In a call with reporters last week, Capt. Shea Thompson, the commodore for Surface Development Squadron 1, declined to say whether Zumwalt operated in the South China Sea during the recent underway.

“She conducted joint and bilateral simulated maritime fires training with the 613 [Air Operations Center] and B-1 Bombers, to include a Japanese destroyer and CTF-71 staff. And that was to test combat systems capabilities while operating in 7th Fleet,” Thompson said. “They also worked with the forward deployed [explosive ordnance disposal] unit on the mine countermeasures proof of concept and she integrated with the fleet [maritime operations centers] and conducted air operations with the Army.”

Guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) arrives at Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan on Aug. 26, 2022. US Navy Photo

Capt. Amy McInnis, the commanding officer of Zumwalt, declined to provide details about the MCM proof of concept, other than to say the destroyer carried rigid-hull inflatable boats and floated them out at sea. The destroyer did not take an aviation detachment during its underway in PACFLEET.

Zumwalt will go into the dry dock in late 2023 for an 18-month maintenance availability and get outfitted with hypersonic missiles in Fiscal Year 2024 and FY 2025, Thompson said.

After the install, Zumwalt will go through several months of testing to ensure the hypersonic missiles were installed correctly. It will then take the ship about a year to go through workups to prepare for its first deployment with the hypersonic weapons.

“We intend to upgrade its mission systems. We intend to employ its stealthy capabilities, its passive detection, its well deck, the ability to integrate undersea unmanned capabilities, surface unmanned capabilities and to really use it as an all-domain platform that can collect. It can sense,” Paparo told USNI News.
“It can execute rapid disorienting fires and can do so in contested environments to be a difference maker and an enabling capability. This year was a first step. It was exciting. We tested her. We wrung out its crew. We built confidence in our ability to sustain her. We put her to sea for long periods of time. We gained confidence in her propulsion systems and her weapon systems.”

Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002) at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., on Aug. 4, 2022 USNI News Photo

Shortly after its 2016 commissioning, Zumwalt experienced propulsion failures while transiting through the Panama Canal en route to Naval Base San Diego. The destroyer was stuck pierside for several days of repairs.

As for operational concepts for Zumwalt, Thompson said future fleet commanders will have their choice as to how they want to employ the destroyer.

“This is a multi-mission warship. Obviously, with the CPS upgrade that is planned for future install, we’re putting a lot of resources and effort behind enhancing the surface strike capability on that platform,” Thompson said. “But again, it’s a multi-mission warship. It can operate independently. It can operate within a [surface action group]. It can operate within a strike group. It’s going to depend on what the fleet commander – how that fleet commander desires to deploy her.”

Navy Details Hypersonic Missiles on Zumwalt Destroyers, Virginia Submarines

ARLINGTON, Va. – The trio of Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyers could each field up to a dozen hypersonic missiles, with the first ship ready for testing in 2025, USNI News has learned. The service has determined that the hull can accommodate four 87-inch missile tubes that can each hold multiple missiles, Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe the […]

Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002) at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., on Aug. 4, 2022 USNI News Photo

ARLINGTON, Va. – The trio of Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyers could each field up to a dozen hypersonic missiles, with the first ship ready for testing in 2025, USNI News has learned.

The service has determined that the hull can accommodate four 87-inch missile tubes that can each hold multiple missiles, Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe the head of the Navy’s strategic systems programs, told reporters on Tuesday at the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium.

“We’re talking about deploying this system on DDG-1000 in 2025, that’s three years from now,” Wolfe said.
“We got to get on with getting all of the design for the Zumwalt, getting all of those tubes in there, as we pulled out the forward gun mounts. We’ve gotten to put these large diameter tubes in there, and then finish the integration work into the combat system.”

USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) is set to arrive at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., late next year to start a modernization period to install the missile tubes that will replace the two existing 155mm gun mounts on the 16,000-ton guided-missile destroyer, USNI News first reported in August.

USNI News understands the Navy has determined in previous studies that three Common Hypersonic Glide Bodies (C-HGB) and their boosters could fit in each 87-inch tube – or 12 missiles per Zumwalt.

USS Michael Monsoor (DDG-1001) will follow Zumwalt to Ingalls for its own modernization period that will include installing the missile tubes. It’s unclear if the third Zumwalt-class ship, Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002) –currently at Ingalls – will also have the missiles installed as part of its combat systems activation period.

The inclusion of hypersonics on the ship followed a 2017 decision to make the three-ship Zumwalt class blue water combatants.

Zumwalt gave us an opportunity to get [hypersonics] out faster and to be honest with you, I need a solid mission for Zumwalt,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told USNI News during an interview earlier this year.

The weapon’s dimensions are common across the Navy and Army and have been developed as part of a joint program between both services.

“You need to have the same lethality no matter where you’re at. And that’s what this weapon does. It’s all the same with the lethality to get after all these targets. It just depends on who’s launching it, right, whether it’s the Army, from a [transporter erector launcher], or whether it’s a Zumwalt, or whether it’s a Virginia-class submarine,” Wolfe said.

A common hypersonic glide body (C-HGB) launches from Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii, at approximately 10:30 p.m. local time on March 19, 2020. US Navy Photo

The weapons are designed to fill the Pentagon’s longstanding prompt global strike mission that calls for the ability to launch a conventional strike almost anywhere in the world at ranges of thousands of miles.

The Pentagon over the last several years has accelerated its development of hypersonic weapons, or those traveling faster than five times the speed of sound. In 2018, the Defense Department tasked the Navy with developing a weapon for itself and the Army.

“On these high-end systems, it is no longer affordable for a single service to do that. We’re working with the [Office the Secretary of Defense], we’re working with the Army and with what our resource sponsor is doing to figure out how we build this capability once and get out to multiple platforms,” Wolfe said.

The Navy is pairing a glide body launched from a booster system to create an “all-up round” that would be in use by both services. In June, the first flight test proved the viability of the booster but the glide body didn’t hit the target.

Wolfe said the Navy found and corrected the flaw within two months.

While hypersonics are considered a conventional weapon, Wolfe is still overseeing the portfolio, which the Pentagon is treating as a strategic weapon, he told USNI News. Wolfe is also responsible for the Navy’s submarine-launched nuclear weapons.

“It’s strategic, but it’s not nuclear. If you look at the numbers, particularly with what we’re going to with the ranges, it is very much a strategic asset. You can hold very high-value targets at risk … and you can do that with all these various platforms,” Wolfe told USNI News.

The Zumwalt destroyers will be the first Navy platform to field the missiles. The Army is set to get its first operational, truck-launched weapons next year. In 2029, the weapons will be deployed on the first attack submarine with the Virginia Payload Module that is currently under construction at General Dynamics Electric Boat and HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding.

The Navy is currently building a test facility to launch the new weapon underwater from a similar tube as those installed on the Zumwalt ships and the Virginia boats, Wolfe said.

Artist’s concept of the Virginia Payload Module.

“Our first challenge was: Can we develop an air launch? Basically pressurized air to get that weapon out of a Zumwalt, right up in the air, so it lights off and we don’t have all those hot gases [to deal with]. We’ve actually proven that we’ve done that testing … That’s the next challenge is build the underwater launch,” he said.
“We’re starting to build a facility to do underwater launch testing, so that we understand what that weapon will do, even before we get to the first Virginia.”

In terms of fielding the weapons, Wolfe said progress has been on track to meet the tight deadlines on the Navy platforms, but margins were thin.

“I think we’re on a pretty good path right now, but time is not our friend,” he said.

China’s Accelerated Timeline to Take Taiwan Pushing Navy in the Pacific, Says CNO Gilday

Amid concerns that China could try to reunify the mainland with Taiwan faster than previously anticipated, the United States Navy is also eyeing a more immediate window for a potential conflict over the island, the service’s top officer said Wednesday. The Navy is still assessing how China’s recent 20th Party Congress meeting affects its plans […]

Amphibious infantry fighting vehicle, soldiers assigned to an army brigade under PLA Eastern Theatre Command stay on alert and prepare for landing during a ferrying and assault wave formation training exercise on May 7, 2022. PLA Photo

Amid concerns that China could try to reunify the mainland with Taiwan faster than previously anticipated, the United States Navy is also eyeing a more immediate window for a potential conflict over the island, the service’s top officer said Wednesday.

The Navy is still assessing how China’s recent 20th Party Congress meeting affects its plans for the fleet, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said at a virtual event hosted by the Atlantic Council.

“It’s not just what President Xi says, but it’s how the Chinese behave and what they do. And what we’ve seen over the past 20 years is that they have delivered on every promise they’ve made earlier than they said they were going to deliver on it,” Gilday said when asked about the so-called “Davidson window,” referring to former U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. Phil Davidson testifying to Congress in 2021 that China wanted the capability to seize Taiwan within the next six years.

“When we talk about the 2027 window, in my mind that has to be a 2022 window or a potentially a 2023 window. I can’t rule that out. I don’t mean at all to be alarmist by saying that, it’s just that we can’t wish that away,” the CNO added.

During the Chinese Communist Party meeting on Sunday, President Xi Jinping reaffirmed China’s ambitions to reunify Taiwan with mainland China. The next day, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the People’s Republic of China is moving on a faster timeline to take over the island.

U.S. Navy officials and members of Congress have invoked the 2027 timeline since Davidson’s March 2021 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, when he said the threat of China taking Taiwan was more imminent.

During the conversation at the Atlantic Council, Gilday also made the case for why readiness is his top priority as CNO.

“We are still recovering with our carrier force as an example for back-to-back deployments that we did 10 years ago. And so we’re still catching up on deferred maintenance so that we can get 50 years out of those platforms. So I’m not going to come off of the maintenance piece in terms of an area where we can save money because we just can’t,” he said. “And I would say the same thing about supply parts – about missiles and magazines, about training and readiness for the force. I just don’t think we can skimp on that. There are lessons of the past as recent as 2017 with the collisions that have caused me to rethink anybody’s challenging the money we’re putting into readiness and training.”

Gilday also discussed the Navy’s Project Overmatch initiative – meant to connect platforms and systems to a network that can share and transmit targeting data.

“Some of our allies and partners – I’m not going to mention which ones – but those that we see a higher likelihood of interoperability in the near term, we are sharing our Project Overmatch work with them. They’re highly interested. Some of our heads of navy have been to San Diego to visit Adm. Small and his team at [Naval Information Warfare Systems Command],” the CNO said, referring to Rear Adm. Doug Small, who Gilday put in charge of leading the Project Overmatch effort.

“And so it’s not lost on me the power of including them. We have to be inclusive, or we’re not going to be able to fight together. So we’re moving forward I think at a good pace with our allies and partners in that effort. We’re not holding back.”

While Gilday would not say which countries the U.S. is sharing the Project Overmatch information with, Navy officials have repeatedly made the case for interoperability and operating interchangeably with nations like France and the United Kingdom.

Another avenue for the U.S. Navy’s work with allies and partners has been the Task Force 59 effort in the Middle East, where U.S. 5th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Brad Cooper is leading the charge on using unmanned systems to collect data for situational awareness in the region.

Gilday said that this work with allies and partners is helping the U.S. field unmanned capabilities within the next five years.

“I definitely see value in the key operational problem that Adm. Cooper’s getting after. We’re not just experimenting for experimentation’s sake. We are learning from what we’re doing. But the key operational problem we’re solving is increasing maritime domain awareness in an area of responsibility where we have fewer ships than we’d like to have,” the CNO said.

“And so we’re closing that gap with unmanned and we’re learning from it. And as a result of that, working closely with allies and partners, we’ll be able to field capability in this FYDP,” he added, referring to the Pentagon’s five-year budget outlook known as the Future Years Defense Program.

SECNAV, CNO 247th Navy Birthday Messages

The following are messages from Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday on the service’s 247th birthday. SECNAV Del Toro’s Birthday Message Chief Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Honea’s 247th Birthday Message Happy Birthday, Shipmates. Today, we join […]

The following are messages from Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday on the service’s 247th birthday.

SECNAV Del Toro’s Birthday Message

Chief Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Honea’s 247th Birthday Message

Happy Birthday, Shipmates.

Today, we join together to commemorate and celebrate our Navy’s 247th birthday. Together, we continue to stand the watch 24 hours a day, seven days a week – as we have for the past 247 years.

Since our Nation’s founding – through peace, war, and every challenge in between – the U.S. Navy has protected America’s prosperity, sustained our Nation’s influence, supported our Allies and partners, deterred conflict, and when called upon, defended the ideals of freedom in combat. Our Navy’s operations and presence – at home and on the high seas – have underpinned America’s strength as a maritime nation. As we reflect on our shared history and heritage, let us remember the sacrifices of those who sailed before us to keep the seas free and open.

I’ve said it before: this is the most exciting and consequential time to be in the United States Navy. The security of the maritime commons has never been more vital to the prosperity of the globe. With fierce competition challenging our way of life and the rules-based international order, the Navy remains on call and on watch to protect the freedom of the seas so vital to the stability of the world. Of course, our platforms and their capabilities are important attributes, but it is the leadership and dedication of our Navy’s people – Sailors, Civilians, Chiefs, and Officers – that will make the difference in the years to come.

So let us celebrate this important occasion and continue to build our incredible legacy together with our families and loved ones.

Happy 247th birthday, Navy. See you in the Fleet.

STRATCOM Nominee: U.S. Dealing with Expanding Nuclear Threats from China, Russia

Russia and China’s nuclear capabilities require continual assessment due to the threats these powers pose to the United States and its allies, the nominee to head U.S. Strategic Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. Testifying Thursday, Air Force Gen. Anthony Cotton said the assessment needs to cover how “the two might work […]

General Anthony Cotton, Air Force Global Strike Command commander, speaks during the Striker Stripe event May 9, 2022, at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. Cotton emphasized the importance of familiarizing Airmen with today’s complex strategic environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Chase Sullivan)

Russia and China’s nuclear capabilities require continual assessment due to the threats these powers pose to the United States and its allies, the nominee to head U.S. Strategic Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
Testifying Thursday, Air Force Gen. Anthony Cotton said the assessment needs to cover how “the two might work together” and “how they might not work together” in a crisis. He pointed to Russia’s warnings that it could use limited nuclear weapons to take over Ukraine and China’s breathtaking advances in building its nuclear triad in fewer than four years. Cotton said this is the first time, since the dawn of the nuclear age in 1945, that the United States had to weigh the threats coming from more than one power with strategic weapons.

That assessment will play a crucial role in understanding “what needs to be done” in force shaping and future security and nuclear strategy and the role the command plays in carrying them out, he added.

“I absolutely believe that our nuclear deterrent” helped deter Russia from using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Cotton, who heads the Air Force’s Global Strike Command, said he supports accelerating the development of nuclear weapons systems, platforms, command and control, and infrastructure modernization when possible.

“We have to roll up our sleeves” to meet the challenges of modernization in facing two near-peer competitors, he added.

To do this, “we’re going to need stable, predictable funding” from Congress and the administration. In turn, the same stability and predictability needs to come from the Pentagon in defining requirements for nuclear programs across the board.

While Cotton on several occasions voiced his support for modernizing all three legs of the triad in both oral and written testimony, the only direct question about the Navy’s ballistic missile submarine program concerned extending the service life of some Ohio-class class boomers.

Cotton said that he needed to understand “what aging we really see” in extending some of the Ohio boats’ service lives to 42 years instead of the originally planned 30. Will the extension “get the result we want” or build new is the question that has to be answered, he said.

He also voiced his support for the continued development of the long-range stand-off cruise missile for the Air Force’s bomber fleet to keep that leg of the triad viable. His support also kept the door open for a nuclear long-range sea-launched cruise missile, an effort the Biden administration canceled earlier this year. Long-range in these cases means missiles capable of covering distances over 1,500 miles.

This spring, Adm. Charles Richard, the current STRATCOM commander, and Adm. James Grady, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee that they favored the continued development of the sea-based weapon.

“I have seen that capability gap as well,” referring to the long-range strike program in general, Cotton said.

Now that electro-magnetic and spectrum warfare falls under STRATCOM, Cotton said, “it’s going to be a front-burner issue.” He added that over the years the program in the Pentagon has atrophied. Cotton said he intends to have the command “not pace our adversaries, but lead our adversaries” in this domain.

The command is still feeling the pandemic’s impact on defense production and delivery, he added. Even with American-made parts, he said that in some areas it is taking 90 days to deliver components versus 10 before COVID-19 reached pandemic levels.

The committee and full Senate are expected to confirm Cotton’s nomination.

CNO: Navy Will Lead DDG(X) Design Effort, Wargames Call for Fewer Large Surface Warships

The design of the next American guided-missile destroyer will be led by the Navy in move that Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday says will reduce technical risk in the program. The service brought in Ingalls Shipbuilding and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works to jointly develop DDG(X), the planned follow-on to the Arleigh Burke Flight […]

Notional Navy DDG(X) hull design. PEO Ships Image

The design of the next American guided-missile destroyer will be led by the Navy in move that Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday says will reduce technical risk in the program.

The service brought in Ingalls Shipbuilding and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works to jointly develop DDG(X), the planned follow-on to the Arleigh Burke Flight III, but the Navy will firmly be driving the design, Gilday said speaking at the DefenseOne State of Defense conference on Wednesday.

“What we’ve done with DDG X is we brought in private shipbuilders, so that they can help inform the effort. It’s a team, but it’s Navy led. And so, both of the companies that produce DDGs are involved in that initial design. Our intent is to go into build with a mature design,” he said.
“I think it’s important that the Navy maintain the lead on design.”

The move for the Navy to take the lead in design is in response to the technical risk the sea service has endured in other ship classes. He cited success with the detailed design of the Columbia-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine being 80 percent complete before fabrication began on lead ship District of Columbia (SSBN-826).

“Technical risk has been a challenge for us, whether it’s Zumwalt, [Littoral Combat Ships] or [Gerald Ford-class carrier], in particular. [In] those three builds, we’ve accepted technical risks and it’s cost us in terms of keeping those ships, not only within budget, but also on schedule,” Gilday said.

The Navy is set on having the next destroyer, planned to start fabrication in 2028, be a new hull wrapped around existing systems as a further risk reduction.

“An example might be the shift from the Ticonderoga cruiser to the Arleigh Burke destroyer, where we use where we essentially use the same combat system, the same weapon system but the hull is different,” Gilday said.
“Our intent for DDG(X) would be much the same, that we would use a proven combat system on that ship. But we need a ship that has more space and allows for more weight and for capability growth over time. An example might be hypersonic missiles, just based on the size of those missiles. We couldn’t fit those in a current Arleigh Burke, or even a Flight III. [DDG(X) is] a deeper ship, if you will, from that standpoint.”

The Navy is pushing for future surface ships to be armed with hypersonic missiles for offense and directed energy for defense — both require more power and more space than is possible with the current Burke hulls — even the 10,000-ton Flight IIIs, Gilday said.

Jack Lucas (DDG-125) launched on June 5, 2021. HII Photo

It’s unclear how many of the new ships the Navy needs and how it would feather in with the existing Flight III ships underway at both Ingalls and HII.

Gilday said ongoing wargames that are testing out the Navy’s developing distributed maritime operations concept are pushing the service to field less large combatants like DDG(X) and more smaller ones like the Constellation-class guided-missile frigate (FFG-62) along with more nuclear attack submarines.

“The trends that we’re seeing — as we take a look at distributed maritime operations and as we take a look at a number of for structure assessments going back to 2016 — are more submarines, definitely more supply ships. In terms of the surface force, we’re seeing a rebalancing. The demand as we war game, as we exercise as we do more analysis is the trend for surface ships is all less larger surface combatants and more smaller surface combatants.

In the short term, Congress is pushing the Navy to buy more Flight IIIs with House pending defense policy bills calling for an up to 15-hull, five-year contract that would extend the class to a total of 104 ships.

At that rate, the shipyards would need to produce three hulls a year, a number Gilday said the industrial base couldn’t meet now.

“Right now, we’re not at a point where the industrial base can support three destroyers a year. They’re somewhere at two, two and a half,” he said.
“We want to make sure if we’re going to put that money down against shipbuilding, that the capacity is actually there. So that money is well spent… sending them a clear signal.”

Gilday pointed to an overall strain in the industrial base for shipbuilding as the limiting factor.

“It’s across the board,” he said.
“We’ve seen challenges with the industrial base, producing submarines on time, on schedule, and within budget. Same thing with aircraft carriers — destroyers are coming around but we still have some work to do. We’re seeing challenges… whether it’s shipbuilding, whether it’s aircraft production, the defense industrial base right now is strained. And a lot of that has to do with the workforce, as we recover from COVID.”

Austal USA Inks Deal with Saildrone to Build Wind-powered Drones as USV Work Expands

By the end of the year, Austal USA’s yard will start producing sail-powered, unmanned surface vessels for the Navy and other customers, the company announced this week. Starting in October, the Mobile, Ala., shipyard will start building the 65-foot aluminum Saildrone Surveyor drones in its modular manufacturing facility for use by the U.S. Navy. “The […]

Saildrone Photo

By the end of the year, Austal USA’s yard will start producing sail-powered, unmanned surface vessels for the Navy and other customers, the company announced this week.

Starting in October, the Mobile, Ala., shipyard will start building the 65-foot aluminum Saildrone Surveyor drones in its modular manufacturing facility for use by the U.S. Navy.

“The Saildrone Surveyor … is designed specifically for deep ocean mapping and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance applications, both above and below the surface,” reads a Wednesday statement from Austal USA.

Powered by wind and solar power, Saildrones are designed for high endurance voyages, originally for maritime research applications. But the Navy has been using them as surveillance platforms in U.S. Central Command since late last year as part of U.S. 5th Fleet’s Combined Task Force 59.

“We use the wind to sail these around, primarily collecting ocean data, atmospheric and oceanographic observations, but we can also put a payload in the keel and do things like fisheries surveys or single-beam mapping,” Brian Connon, Saildrone’s vice president of ocean mapping, told USNI News last year at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space symposium.

The long endurance of Saildrones as part of the testing in CENTCOM is one of the ways the Navy is developing its future fleet of unmanned systems that will provide the surveillance information for the Navy’s nascent distributed maritime operations concept.

For Austal USA, the work for Saildrone plays into its expanded shipbuilding offerings as it winds down the Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship program, yard president Rusty Murdaugh told USNI News last month.

The Navy announced earlier this year it had a notional plan to acquire 150 USVs in its latest long-range fleet structure. Yards like Austal and smaller shipbuilders in the Gulf Coast are looking to the smaller ships as part of the growth of the service’s unmanned fleet.

“To do a 70-foot autonomy ship was something not on our radar a couple of years ago but what you’ll see is the yard is agnostic … [Austal USA] is, able to build 70-foot ships or 700-foot ships. That’s the range of shipbuilding that we have going on as booked business right now and we’re going to continue to keep that wide range as long as it meets the needs of our customers and supports the yard’s ability to do high volume,” Murdaugh told USNI News.
“We’ve changed the way we manage the business from hulls to platforms. And so the panel can handle eight to 10 different platforms going through it at once. It has a lot of capacity. And we have growth plans that go out 50 years so that we can double the panel line.”

HII Wins $42M Award for Lyndon B. Johnson Combat System Activation

Ingalls Shipbuilding was awarded a $41.6 million contract modification to begin the combat system activation of Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002) in Mississippi, according to a Monday Pentagon announcement. The shipyard will provide, “temporary dock services and maintenance to the ship … to accomplish the combat systems availability (CSA) for DDG 1002,” reads […]

Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002) at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., on Aug. 4, 2022 USNI News Photo

Ingalls Shipbuilding was awarded a $41.6 million contract modification to begin the combat system activation of Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002) in Mississippi, according to a Monday Pentagon announcement.

The shipyard will provide, “temporary dock services and maintenance to the ship … to accomplish the combat systems availability (CSA) for DDG 1002,” reads the announcement.
“Work will be performed in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and is expected to be completed by October 2023.”

The two previous Zumwalts – USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) and USS Michael Monsoor (DDG-1001) – underwent their combat system activations at Naval Station San Diego, Calif., following a hull, mechanical and engineering delivery to the service from builder General Dynamics Bath Iron Work, Maine.

Instead of activating the combat system in San Diego with a full crew aboard, the Navy elected to take the ship to Ingalls, USNI News reported last year.

In a June 2021 report to the Government Accountability Office the Navy outlined its rationale for no longer performing the combat system activation in San Diego.

“For DDG-1002, the Navy changed its delivery plan over the past year. According to the program manager, instead of taking custody of the ship from the builder’s yard and completing the combat system at Naval Base San Diego, the Navy is now planning to contract with a private shipyard to install the combat system and will not take delivery or commission DDG-1002 until it is fully complete,” reads a GAO report on major acquisition programs. “The program manager stated that this new approach may result in additional schedule delays; however, it will free up valuable pier space in Naval Base San Diego and enable the Navy to avoid moving the crew onboard DDG-1002 until it is ready to operate. The program manager identified the change as a response to lessons learned from DDG-1000 and 1001—specifically, that completing combat system activation and final construction is complicated by onboard crew, in part, because access to spaces is more constrained.”

As part of the report, the Navy estimated Johnson would deliver by 2024.

The contract award follows a mid-August notice from Naval Sea Systems Command on the other two ships in the class. The notice said the Navy intended for Zumwalt and Monsoor to travel from California to Ingalls for an extensive maintenance availability. That availability, USNI News has learned, will include removing the 155mm Advanced Gun Systems on the two 16,000-ton ships and replacing them with launch tubes for hypersonic missiles.

USNI News first reported in March that the Navy intended to remove the guns to install the missile tubes.

It’s unclear if Johnson’s availability will include the removal of its AGS and the installation of the tubes for hypersonic weapons.

The work on the first two ships in the class is set to kick off in October, Navy officials told USNI News earlier this year.

The trio of ships are set to be the first U.S. warships to field hypersonic weapons. Navy officials have said they intend to have the weapons to sea on the Zumwalts by 2025.

Zumwalt gave us an opportunity to get [hypersonics] out faster and to be honest with you I need a solid mission for Zumwalt,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told USNI News during an interview earlier this year.

The following is the complete Aug. 29, 2022 contract announcement.

Huntington Ingalls Inc., Pascagoula, Mississippi, is awarded a $41,646,746 cost-plus-incentive-fee modification to definitize the previously awarded undefinitized contract N00024-22-C-2300 for temporary dock services and maintenance to the ship (including, but not limited to, preventative and corrective maintenance), as required, as well as management, labor, material, facilities, emergent work support and maintenance as required, to accomplish the combat systems availability (CSA) for DDG 1002. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and is expected to be completed by October 2023. Fiscal 2016 shipbuilding and conversion (Navy) funds in the amount of $750,687 (3%); fiscal 2018 shipbuilding and conversion (Navy) funds in the amount of $3,496,466 (13%); fiscal 2020 shipbuilding and conversion (Navy) funds in the amount of $2,053,085 (7%); and fiscal 2022 shipbuilding and conversion (Navy) funds in the amount of $21,078,471 (77%) will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. Huntington Ingalls Inc. is the only responsible source available to perform the DDG 1002 CSA with resource availability and the technical capabilities required to complete the DDG 1002 CSA. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity (N00024-22-C-2300).

CNO Gilday: Industrial Capacity Largest Barrier to Growing the Fleet

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The biggest barrier to adding more ships to the Navy is industrial base capacity, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said Thursday. The service’s top officer said shipbuilders need indicators from the service before they’re able to make the investments required to build, for example, three destroyers per year. “We have […]

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Gilday delivers testimony at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the fiscal year 2023 defense budget request on May 12, 2022. US Navy Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The biggest barrier to adding more ships to the Navy is industrial base capacity, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said Thursday.

The service’s top officer said shipbuilders need indicators from the service before they’re able to make the investments required to build, for example, three destroyers per year.

“We have an industrial capacity that’s limited. In other words, we can only get so many ships off the production line a year. My goal would be to optimize those production lines for destroyers, for frigates, for amphibious ships, for the light amphibious ships, for supply ships,” Gilday said at a Heritage Foundation event.

“We need to give a signal to industry that we need to get to three destroyers a year, instead of 1.5, that we need to maintain two submarines a year. And so part of this is on us to give them a clear set of – a clear aim point so they can plan a work force and infrastructure that’s going to be able to meet the demand. But again, no industry is going to make those kinds of investments unless we give them a higher degree of confidence.”

Asked by USNI News after the event if the reason the Navy isn’t ready to send that signal to industry is because of funding, Gilday said, “it depends on the class of ships. Sometimes it’s affordability. Sometimes it’s industrial capacity.”

The Navy in its Fiscal Year 2023 budget submission projected buying two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers per year between FY 2023 and FY 2027. But Congress is pushing for a 10-ship buy across that same time period with options for five more destroyers, amounting to three destroyers per year.

While Gilday has pointed to capacity as a hurdle to growing the fleet, two U.S. shipyards have already made significant infrastructure investments that could set them up to build more ships. Austal USA recently built a new steel line and is interested in the second line for the Constellation-class frigate. HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding, which builds some of the destroyers, has spent nearly $1 billion over the last five years to modernize its Pascagoula, Miss., yard, USNI News recently reported. Bath Iron Works, the other yard that builds the destroyers, is still facing a backlog of work that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gilday’s 2022 Navigation Plan, released last month, calls for 373 manned ships and about 150 unmanned surface and underwater vehicles by 2045.

As for unmanned, Gilday said that when he assumed top job, he viewed the Navy’s pursuit of those platforms the same way he viewed traditional acquisition programs, which typically span years and take significant research and development. The service’s unmanned efforts have to move faster, he argued.

“We’ve changed the construct. We’ve changed the framework in terms of our development of unmanned capabilities,” Gilday said.

The CNO pointed to the Task Force 59 effort operating in the Middle East that has tested numerous contractor-owned vessels and unmanned air assets with allies and partners.

A Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessel (USV) sails in the Gulf of Aqaba off of Jordan’s coast on Dec. 12, 2021. US Navy Photo

“With unmanned technologies that are out there, we’ve developed a DevOps kind of environment with [an] unmanned task force in the Pentagon that’s closely connected to Task Force 59, which operates out of Bahrain,” he said. “And that task force is operating with six or seven different countries as a team right now to increase maritime domain awareness using unmanned in the air and on the sea. Our goal is to have 100 networked unmanned platforms operating together, tied together in a mesh network that delivers an understanding of what’s afloat out there – whether it’s in the Red Sea or the Arabian Gulf.”

The goal is to have those 100 unmanned platforms, most of which Gilday said would belong to allies and partners, by the summer of 2023.

“If we take a look at the Red Sea, the Red Sea’s about the size of the state of California. On any given day, we may have four or five coalition ships that are operating in that water space. Think about five patrol cars trying to secure the state of California,” he said. “And then think about the power of unmanned and what that capability gives you in terms of sensing and then understanding at the tactical edge, in these operation centers, and our partner nations leveraging AI.”

For unmanned, Gilday emphasized the importance of the artificial intelligence software integration over the physical asset.

“So if I drew a parallel to Tesla who’s a digital native in the automotive industry, there’s plenty of platforms out there – Volkswagen, Ford, a number of companies have their platform. The secret sauce is that AI software” piece, he said.

“And we don’t have to have the same company that develops both of these. It’s a very competitive environment. Small companies are making the magic plugin that we can change out very quickly,” Gilday added. “So we’re trying to field capabilities, unmanned capabilities, in this Fiscal Year Defense Plan, within three to five years. Actually we’re fielding it now. It’s also informing, this progress is informing some of our bigger programs like large and medium unmanned [surface vehicles] that we would hope to scale later on in this decade.”

After the event, Gilday told USNI News that Task Force 59 will continue its unmanned exercises, but said the U.S. is trying to more regularly integrate unmanned platforms into its fleet operations.

“We’re folding in unmanned to fleet battle problems, we’re doing it with deploying strike groups,” he said. “We’re just trying to make it more something that we’re doing routinely rather than just having a separate exercise.”

SWO Boss Wants 6 Littoral Combat Ships in Western Pacific

In the next couple of years the Navy hopes to have six Independence-class Littoral Combat Ships operating in the Western Pacific at a given time, the service’s top surface warfare officer said this week. “In the Indy class, we continue to deploy them to the Western Pacific – trying to keep that 3.0 presence out […]

Electronics Technician 3rd Class Jerry Brown, from Middletown, Ohio, participates in morning colors on the foc’sle aboard the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Charleston (LCS-18) during a port visit to Dili, Timor-Leste on Dec. 8, 2021. US Navy Photo

In the next couple of years the Navy hopes to have six Independence-class Littoral Combat Ships operating in the Western Pacific at a given time, the service’s top surface warfare officer said this week.

“In the Indy class, we continue to deploy them to the Western Pacific – trying to keep that 3.0 presence out there and build it to probably around 6 here in a few years,” Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, the commander of Naval Surface Forces, told reporters in a Thursday media call.

Noting that all of the LCS that head to the Western Pacific are outfitted with the Naval Strike Missile, Kitchener said the service has used the Independence-class ships to demonstrate presence in the region.

“As far as operations, they’ve been working with our partners. We’ve operated them in an Australian exercise, where we teamed them up with some expeditionary [mine counter-measures] capability. We’ve used them for presence operations in the South China Sea and the East China Sea,” he said.

Despite the Navy’s push to decommission the LCS, Kitchener said he’s planning as if he will operate the class in the coming years. While the Navy has already decommissioned USS Independence (LCS-2), the lead ship of the Indy class, and plans to decommission USS Coronado (LCS-4), the service has focused its efforts on trying to retire the troubled Freedom-class ships, which are based on the East Coast.

“I continue to work to man, train and equip everything that we have on the books and I’ll continue to do that. So as I looked at decom strategies, the only issue I have with those as I try to influence is that I can’t just be pushing decommissionings … year by year because of the way the money flows. It makes it very difficult for me to generate readiness. I suspect we will have LCS ships well into the future and that’s how I’m preparing them,” Kitchener said.

While the Independence-class ships, based at Naval Station San Diego, have been deploying to the Indo-Pacific, the Navy in recent years has sent the Freedom-class LCS to U.S. Southern Command for counter-drug operations. The service recently deployed USS Sioux City (LCS-11) to the Middle East in a first for the class. Kitchener pointed to that deployment and said the Navy has taken lessons from operating the LCS in both U.S. 7th Fleet and U.S. 4th Fleet to determine the best maintenance strategies for the ships.

“Again, we teamed them up with some expeditionary MCM capability because that’s something we’re very interested in and had some really good success. They’ve also trained with partners, we’ve executed some maintenance, taken the lessons we’ve learned from 4th Fleet and also out in 7th Fleet and tied that all together,” he said of Sioux City.

Despite the Navy’s plans to decommission many of the Freedom hulls, Kitchener said he plans to deploy them to U.S. 5th Fleet and U.S. 6th Fleet.

Independence-variant littoral combat ships USS Tulsa (LCS-16), left, and USS Jackson (LCS-6), right, sail with German Navy frigate FGS Bayern (F-217), center, in the Philippine Sea on Oct. 18, 2021. German Navy Photo

“Again, still some things to look at and to work on as far as expeditionary maintenance, but so far leveraging those lessons from 7th and 4th Fleet seem to have paid off pretty well. We’re looking at continuing and to formalize a deployment strategy of Freedom-class ships to 5th and 6th Fleet as we sundown [patrol craft] out there,” he said.

The Navy has made progress on fixing the reliability issues on the Independence-class ships based in San Diego with the help of its Task Force LCS effort, Kitchener said.

“We’ve had a lot of success with reliability fixes and maintaining those ships on station, operationally longer. We still have some challenges as far as some of them systems and part of that is an effort of making sure we have the right parts at the point of need. There’s some scrutiny in the good work of Task Force LCS,” he said.

The SWO Boss pointed to USS Charleston (LCS-18), which has been operating int he Indo-Pacific this year, as an example of that progress.

“We really dove in with some analytics on understanding what parts we really needed out there. And we just had some recent success with coolers and things like that that were available for Charleston to keep them running,” he said. “I’ve been pretty happy with that, but there’s a lot more work to do, particularly if we want to build the force out there. We’ve gotten pretty adept at three, but I wouldn’t say that we’ve mastered it yet. So there’s some more work to do.”

The Naval Sea Systems Command LCS Strike strike team, led by Program Executive Office for Unmanned and Small Combatants Rear Adm. Casey Moton, helped the service make fixes to USS Oakland (LCS-24) ahead of its deployment.

“The work that the strike team did – the NAVSEA engineers – on reliability fixes, we pushed Oakland out, who’s our latest deployer, recently with about 20 to 25 of those fixes. Most significantly we replaced all the water jet cylinders before they left because we kind of figured out with the data we have how long they last, you know, what their life cycle is,” Kitchener said.

The Navy also replaced “some other cables and smart packs and pressure switches for those water jets,” on Oakland, Kitchener added. The service will compare Oakland‘s deployment to that of USS Tulsa (LCS-16), which just returned.

USS Oakland (LCS-24) moored pierside during the commissioning ceremony on April 17, 2021. US Navy Photo

“And so that’s going to be really good as we measure how much more operational time we get with those fixes, compared to a ship like Tulsa who just returned who had maybe zero to, none to maybe five of those fixes. So looking forward to seeing the data that we get back on that one,” he said.

While the Navy has sent the Freedom-class ships to U.S. 4th Fleet for counter-drug operations over the last few years, Kitchener said the service has only recently figured out how to perform maintenance on the ships during deployments.

“[I]n 4th Fleet we continue to have pretty good success interdicting drug traffickers – the ship’s very well-suited for those kind of missions – and then working with our partners down there. We’ve also been able to start moving our maintenance around,” he told reporters. “At first down there we were a little bit limited and we tried some things to move them to different places and we’ve now been pretty good at developing some remote sites where we bring the ships in and fly gear in and bring people in and repair from there.”

In recent years the Navy has tried to shift more LCS maintenance responsibilities to sailors instead of relying on contractors, which was the original class maintenance model.

“As we transition to more of the sailor-focused maintenance, we spent a lot of time on getting our sailors some specialized training, buying some of the – getting the rights to some of the gear – we continue to do that,” Kitchener said.

He pointed to the crane at the back of the LCS that is used to deploy the Unmanned Influence Sweep System (UISS) and the rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) as an example of where the Navy had to train its sailors as part of the maintenance model shift.

Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) launches a Naval Strike Missile (NSM) during Exercise Pacific Griffin on Oct. 1, 2019. US Navy Photo

“Traditionally that’s been very problematic for us. There are some mechanical issues with it and there are also some training issues with it and some depth of knowledge issues, quite frankly,” Kitchener said.
“We called it the space shot – or the moon shot – where we really focused a big effort on how do we make sure this thing stays up all the time and how do we overcome this challenge and we’ve learned an awful lot there, got our sailors trained.”

While the Navy has made headway on LCS reliability and maintenance, Kitchener said the service needs to make more progress to ensure the ships are operating at full capacity.

“I still get concerned over some of the system readiness. I think we’ve improved our ability to stay underway, though sometimes I think from a system perspective we have more work to do in making sure that not only are they underway, but they’re 100 percent fully redundant on some of their combat readiness,” he said.