Senate, Navy Pushing for Bath Iron Works, Ingalls DDG(X) Destroyer Team Up

The push to develop the Navy’s next-generation destroyer will be a team effort between General Dynamics Bath Iron Works and HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding if the Navy and the Senate Armed Services Committee have their way. Instead of competing for the primary contract to build DDG(X), the service wants the two yards to take a page from […]

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

The push to develop the Navy’s next-generation destroyer will be a team effort between General Dynamics Bath Iron Works and HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding if the Navy and the Senate Armed Services Committee have their way.

Instead of competing for the primary contract to build DDG(X), the service wants the two yards to take a page from the teaming agreement between General Dynamics Electric Boat and HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding to design and construct the Columbia-class nuclear ballistic missile, several legislative and service officials told USNI News this week.

On Monday, the Senate Armed Services released its Fiscal Year 2023 authorization bill, which includes language that directs the Navy to pursue the teaming agreement for DDG(X) without naming Ingalls and Bath. But the Navy wants the arrangement for those two shipyards, USNI News understands.

Citing a string of problems with the Navy’s surface ship programs over the last 20 years, the bill’s report language directs the Navy to adopt a similar teaming plan to the submarine yards.

“The committee notes that many recent Navy shipbuilding programs, including the DDG-1000 and Littoral Combat Ship programs, experienced significant cost increases, program delays, and reliability issues due to flaws in the earliest acquisition strategies,” according to the report language paired with the bill that was filed on Monday.

“Accordingly, the committee believes it is critical that the Navy work closely with industry to ensure appropriate design and technical maturity in developing lead ship acquisition strategies. The committee further believes that the DDG(X) acquisition strategy should be modeled on and leverage the best practices of the Columbia-class Integrated Product and Process Development (IPPD) contract, with integrated lines of effort in design, technology maturation, and construction.”

For Columbia, the IPPD construct centers on a digital design tool that allows both yards and the Navy to work from the same set of plans simultaneously to increase the design efficiency and identify production problems ahead of fabrication. While in the submarine teaming agreement Newport News and Electric Boat build different sections of the same boat, in the DDG(X) arrangement, each yard would build a complete warship, USNI News understands.

The advantage would alleviate the growing pains of bringing a second yard in to build the same design after an original award, since all the yards would craft their fabrication plans at the same time. However, the arrangement would limit the work to the two yards and prevent a wider competition for other shipyards beyond Ingalls and Bath, USNI News understands. Some legislators are skeptical of the lack of a wider contest, Hill sources have told USNI News.

The House did not include a similar provision in its version of the NDAA that was approved earlier this month.

The next-generation destroyer is set to follow the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer and Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser, an effort the Navy has attempted since the 2000s.

At the time, the Burkes and Ticos were going to be superseded by the Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer and a massive 20,000-ton next-generation cruiser called CG(X). CG(X) was canceled for cost and the Zumwalts were trimmed to just three as part of the Fiscal Year 2010 defense budget.

Since then, the Navy has restarted the Burke line between Ingalls and Bath and adapted the hull to accommodate what would become the AN/SPY-6 air and missile radar in the Flight III configuration. Cementing a strategy for a Burke successor has been elusive.

The most recent strategy, unveiled in January, would take the combat system from the Flight III and the integrated propulsion system from the Zumwalts to create a combination that would be designed to field hypersonic missiles and high-powered directed energy weapons, Navy officials said at the time.

“When we upgraded the Flight III … we took up all of the service life allowance on that platform. All of the space, weight and power has all been allocated. There is not enough room on that ship to put a new combat capability that takes more power or a larger footprint within the ship,” deputy DDG(X) program manager Katherine Connelly said at the time.

“The first ship will focus on a new hull form and a new integrated power system. We will use the proven combat system from the Flight III ship so we are designing the ship with the flexibility and the margins to accommodate the future of the Navy and the needs for where we’re going.”

GAO Report on Risk in Defense Industrial Base

The following is the July 7, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, Defense Industrial Base DoD Should Take Actions to Strengthen Its Risk Mitigation Approach. From the report The Department of Defense’s (DOD) Industrial Base Policy office does not yet have a consolidated and comprehensive strategy to mitigate risks to the industrial base—the companies that develop […]

The following is the July 7, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, Defense Industrial Base DoD Should Take Actions to Strengthen Its Risk Mitigation Approach.

From the report

The Department of Defense’s (DOD) Industrial Base Policy office does not yet
have a consolidated and comprehensive strategy to mitigate risks to the
industrial base—the companies that develop and manufacture technologies and
weapon systems for DOD. The office is using a combination of four previously
issued reports that were created for other requirements because it devoted its resources to completing other priorities. Collectively, the reports do not include several elements GAO has previously identified that would help DOD achieve results, evaluate progress, and ensure accountability.

DOD must update its industrial base strategy following the submission of the next National Security Strategy Report, which is expected to be issued later in 2022. By including all elements in a consolidated strategy, DOD could better ensure that all appropriate organizations are working toward the same priorities, promoting supply chain resiliency, and supporting national security objectives.

DOD is carrying out numerous efforts to mitigate risks to the industrial base. This includes more than $1 billion in reported efforts under Navy submarine and destroyer programs and $125 million to sustain a domestic microelectronics manufacturer. However, DOD has limited insight into the effectiveness of these efforts and how much progress it has made addressing risks.

GAO Image

For example:

  • The Industrial Base Policy office and military services have not
    established enterprise-wide performance measures to monitor the
    aggregate effectiveness of DOD’s mitigation efforts.
  • DOD’s annual Industrial Capabilities Reports do not include information
    about the progress the department has made in mitigating risks.

GAO’s prior work on enterprise risk management establishes that agencies
should monitor and report on the status and effectiveness of their risk mitigation efforts. Without key monitoring and reporting information, DOD and Congress do not have sufficient information to help determine whether industrial base risks have been mitigated and what additional resources or actions may be needed.

Download document here.

Navy Attack Sub PEO Goggins to Lead American AUKUS Effort, Says SECNAV

The admiral who oversees U.S. attack submarine construction has been appointed to lead the Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) partnership that promises to develop a nuclear-powered attack boat for the Royal Australian Navy, the Department of the Navy announced Friday. Goggins, who currently serves as the program executive officer for attack submarines, will report to the […]

Rear Adm. David Goggins

The admiral who oversees U.S. attack submarine construction has been appointed to lead the Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) partnership that promises to develop a nuclear-powered attack boat for the Royal Australian Navy, the Department of the Navy announced Friday.

Goggins, who currently serves as the program executive officer for attack submarines, will report to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, according to the sea service’s news release. He will turn the PEO over to Rear Adm. Jonathon Rucker.

As the special assistant in support of AUKUS, Goggins will lead the planning and standup of the Navy’s implementation of the approach selected by Australia after a consultation period, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said in the release.

“Adm. Goggins selection to lead AUKUS will further our efforts to strengthen our strategic partnerships with Australia and the United Kingdom,” Del Toro said in the release. “Dave comes to us at a critical time in the consultation period of AUKUS and is the right person to spearhead the analysis of the submarine development production and testing efforts. Under his leadership, I’m confident the AUKUS team will help meet the objective of determining the best path toward equipping the Royals Australian Navy with a nuclear-powered, conventionally-armed class of attack submarines by March 2023.”

Goggins previously served as the Virginia-class program manager. He oversaw the delivery of three submarines for the Navy and started the design for the Block V Virginia Payload Module and Acoustic Superiority upgrades as part of the Virginia-class submarines.

He also previously worked on the Columbia-class submarine as the program manager.

The AUKUS partnership, announced in September and formalized in December, allows Washington and London to share technical secrets of nuclear submarine propulsion with Canberra. The move caused Australia to abandon its deal with the French to buy conventionally-powered submarines that would replace the RAN’s Collins-class boats.

The AUKUS effort is now in the middle of an 18-month study period to determine the best way to move forward with the effort.

In addition to nuclear propulsion, the agreement is designed “to spur cooperation across many new and emerging arenas: cyber, AI – particularly applied AI – quantum technologies and some undersea capabilities as well,” according to a summary of the agreement.

Joint Chiefs Vice Chair, STRATCOM CO Still In Favor of Navy Nuclear Cruise Missile

The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Strategic Command’s top officer told a Senate panel Wednesday they favored continued development of the Navy’s low-yield Sea-Launched Cruise Missile-Nuclear capability, despite last year’s guidance the program be abandoned and being zeroed out in next year’s budget. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, STRATCOM’s […]

Navy Adm. Charles Richard, commander, U.S. Strategic Command provides testimony at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in review of the fiscal 2023 budget on March 8, 2022. DoD Photo

The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Strategic Command’s top officer told a Senate panel Wednesday they favored continued development of the Navy’s low-yield Sea-Launched Cruise Missile-Nuclear capability, despite last year’s guidance the program be abandoned and being zeroed out in next year’s budget.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, STRATCOM’s Adm. Charles Richard said, “without [SLCM-N], adversaries may perceive an advantage.”

Adm. James Grady also testified that he was in favor of the missile development continuing.

His answer echoed that of the chairman, Army Gen. Mark Milley, who told the House Armed Services Committee last month that research into SLCM-N would give the president more options in a crisis.

The missile with a range of about 1,500 miles could fill a “deterrence and assurance gap” against China and Russia and with allies and partners, Richard testified.

“To address this gap, a low-yield, non-ballistic capability to deter and respond without visible generation is necessary to provide a persistent, survivable, regional capability to deter adversaries, assure allies, provide flexible options, as well as complement existing capabilities. I believe a capability with these attributes should be re-examined in the near future,” Richard wrote in an April 5 letter to Congress, first reported by Defense News.

He repeated that observation Wednesday.

“We don’t know where China is going in capacity and capability,” Richard told the panel.

He reminded the senators of Russia’s threat to use low-yield tactical nuclear weapons to get its way in Ukraine after the poor performance of its conventional ground forces and the possibility of China using nuclear coercion to bring Taiwan under its control.

In last year’s budget request, the Navy sought about $15 million for the missile’s research and development, as well as its warhead.

Cutaway image of a nuclear tipped Tomahawk cruise missile

“The Navy indicated that the program was ‘cost prohibitive and the acquisition schedule would have delivered capability late to need.’ According to the Navy, this cancellation would save $199.2 million in FY2023 and $2.1 billion over the next five years,” according to the Congressional Research Service’s most recent report on the program.

Although the missile and warhead were called for in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, a Pentagon official said last month the program’s cancellation was called for in the Biden administration’s review, which was released earlier this year.

At Wednesday’s hearing, William LaPlante, under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said the Pentagon will be sending its latest report on the sea-launched cruise missile-nuclear program to Congress soon.

When asked, LaPlante said he expects “larger numbers to come” in future budget requests for the nuclear enterprise. The request for Fiscal Year 2023 is $34.4 billion, $7 billion above last year’s. He added this amounts to about 4.5 percent of the overall Pentagon request. In addition to modernizing all three legs of the triad, the budget is providing for the development of five new warheads plus the rebuilding facilities at Los Alamos and other laboratories that date to World War II.

“Moving at the speed of relevance is a must,” Grady said about all three efforts.

Citing his two predecessors’ warnings to Congress, Richard said, “I very little ability to mitigate risk” if the modernization program stalls. “What we have is the absolute minimum” now.

Citing China’s “breakout” as a nuclear power, Richard said it “rivals the biggest expansion of any nation” including the United States and Soviet Union in the 1960s.

Beijing doubled its stockpile in two years — much faster than intelligence agencies expected, Richard said. He added China went from zero to 360 intercontinental ballistic missile silos in a few years, doubled the number of its mobile missile launchers, plussed up its ballistic missile submarine fleet and can count its air-launched nuclear missiles as an effective part of its own nuclear triad.

As Beijing was developing its strategic intercontinental nuclear force, Richard said it continued expanding its intermediate-range nuclear capabilities. Although the United States withdrew from the intermediate-range nuclear treaty [IMF] with Russia during the Trump administration, China was never a party to the agreement.

CNO Gilday: Navy Balancing New SSN(X) Attack Submarine Design Against Need For NGAD, DDG(X)

ABOARD THE NUCLEAR ATTACK SUBMARINE USS SOUTH DAKOTA – A banner over the sonar operators in the control room of one of the Navy’s most technologically advanced submarines declares the attack boat is the service’s “Apex Predator.” The sign – complete with a portrait of the alien from the 1987 sci-fi adventure film “The Predator” […]

USS South Dakota (SSN-790) stand at parade rest during a change-of-command ceremony onboard Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Conn., Sept. 27, 2022. US Navy Photo

ABOARD THE NUCLEAR ATTACK SUBMARINE USS SOUTH DAKOTA – A banner over the sonar operators in the control room of one of the Navy’s most technologically advanced submarines declares the attack boat is the service’s “Apex Predator.”

The sign – complete with a portrait of the alien from the 1987 sci-fi adventure film “The Predator” – refers to a package of sensors and quieting technology the service installed for testing aboard USS South Dakota (SSN-790). Commissioned in 2019 as one of the last Block III Virginia-class attack boats, five years ago the Navy chose South Dakota to be the service’s acoustic superiority test ship.

“Stealth is the cover charge, stealth is the price of admission,” then-director of undersea warfare, now U.S. Strategic Command head, Adm. Charles Richard told USNI News at the time.

The boat received coatings that keep the ship quieter, a quieter water jet propulsor and additional sonars mounted on the sides of the hull to increase the crew’s ability to detect enemy ships and submarines, USNI News reported in 2016.

On Monday, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday toured the boat as part of a day-long trip to Naval Submarine Base New London, Conn., and submarine builder General Dynamics Electric Boat.

Overview of USS South Dakota (SSN-790) upgrades for teh XXX program. US Navy Image

Speaking to USNI News en route to the submarine, Gilday said the trip would help him assess the progress in building the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine and the Virginia-class attack boat, as the Navy weighs the direction of its next crop of attack boats.

While the upgrades over the baseline Block III boat make South Dakota among the most dangerous submarines in the fleet in 2022, its basic design and mission set is more than 20 years old.

The Virginia attack boats were a post-Cold War departure for the Navy to develop multi-mission submarines that had an expanded land-attack capability and special operations and signals intelligence capacity to operate closer to shore. The class was a departure from the bigger, faster and more heavily armed Seawolf-class boats that are still widely considered to be the most dangerous submarines in the world.

Now, with Russia and China both expanding their submarine forces, the Navy is again looking to build an attack boat that looks more like USS Seawolf (SSN-21) than South Dakota.  The service wants larger hull diameter and more horizontal weapons like torpedoes to take on ships and submarines, rather than vertically launched land-strike weapons like Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles.
“We don’t know the specific characteristics that will be in SSN(X). But we do believe that the next submarine will have a large horizontal payload capacity. You can read that as it’s going to carry a lot of torpedoes,” Rear Adm. Doug Perry, the current director of the undersea warfare division on the chief of naval operations staff (OPNAV N97) said in November.
“The heavyweight torpedo will remain the weapon of choice for the submarine for this for the foreseeable future, primarily due to its inherent stealth, its destructive effects in the battlespace, and [it’s] pretty difficult to defend against and it also [preserves] the stealth of launch platform.”

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Gilday departs from the Virginia Class submarine USS South Dakota (SSN-790), after a tour of the submarine on Feb. 28, 2022. US Navy Photo

“Submarines are for the foreseeable future going to continue to be our most survivable, lethal strike platform. We’ve taken great pains during constrained budgets in the past several years to eliminate that divot in attack boats that we’re going to see in the late 2020s,” Gilday told USNI News.

EB and Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding are now working through the Block IV Virginia attack boats that have suffered months-long delays in delivery due to complications from the COVID-19 pandemic and other shortfalls. There was more than a two-year gap between the delivery of the first Block IV Virginia – USS Vermont (SSN-792) on April 17, 2020 – to USS Oregon (SSN-793), two weeks ago.

While the Block IVs are still under construction, EB and Newport News have started the construction of the Block V Virginias that will push the limits of the existing Virginia design by including the Virginia Payload Module, which installs an 84-foot-long extension that will have the capacity for the submarines to field more Tomahawks and eventually hypersonic weapons.

“We go from 12 tubes to 40, which is a significant increase and we start bringing those online in 2025-2026. The third hull will be configured for hypersonics,” Gilday said.

But like the Flight III Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, the Navy is pushing the limits of Virginia’s 1990s-era design and has to decide when it will need to develop a new hull.

“There’s the possibility that this Virginia line gets extended beyond the Block V and the planned 10 Block V submarines. There’s the possibility we continue that line,” Gilday said.
“We’re also looking at SSN(X). That would be a mid-2030s [start]. In the Fiscal Year 2022 budget proposal to Congress, we had [$98] million in [research and development] requested for SSN(X). That’s with respect to advanced propulsion, plant machinery, acoustic superiority that we want to maintain. We need to stay ahead of China and Russia and we sure we can’t lag them. So that’s an important effort, the exact timing when we start building those boats is yet to be determined.”

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

However, development of SSN(X) comes at the same time the Navy is looking to design the new DDG(X) guided-missile destroyer to succeed the Arleigh Burkes and the aging Ticonderoga-class cruisers, and develop the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, the service’s sixth-generation fighter meant to replace the F/A-18E/F Super Hornets in the next decade.

“That [SSN(X)] aim point is important for the bigger picture as we take a look at other lethality upgrades, Gilday said.
“We’re working our way through the late 20s with respect to NGAD and DDG(X), but there needs to be progress in both of those. In terms of priority, they’re both important. I think what we’ll come down to is the pace that we move through both of those programs.”

While there is a chance the Navy could get more money to develop the new programs as a result of a recently reported budget expansion for Fiscal Year 2023, last year’s assessment from then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker was bleak.

An F/A-18E Super Hornet attached to the ‘Gladiators’ of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 approaches USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN -8) flight deck on Nov. 1, 2020. US Navy Photo

“The Navy cannot afford to simultaneously develop the next generation of air, surface, and subsurface platforms and must prioritize these programs balancing the cost of developing next-generation capabilities against maintaining current capabilities,” a June 2021 memo from Harker reads. “As part of the POM23 budget, the Navy should prioritize one of the following capabilities and re-phase the other two after an assessment of operational, financial, and technical risk.”

Faced with three major acquisition projects, in addition to the introduction of new unmanned systems into the surface, air and undersea domains, Gilday said he’s committed to a measured approach to the new programs.

“We’re not looking for consecutive miracles here like we’ve done in the past. It’s just too much,” Gilday said. “We’ve seen it from Zumwalt, Ford, even [Littoral Combat Ships], obviously LCS. I’m trying to avoid that with unmanned. I just prefer to get it right, rather than rushing,”

Hypersonic Weapons on Track to Deploy on Attack Submarines in 2028

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy is still on track to deploy hypersonic weapons on its attack submarines in 2028, a service official said Thursday. While the first Zumwalt-class destroyer will get a hypersonic weapon in 2025, the first Virginia-class submarine will deploy with hypersonics in 2028, Strategic Systems Programs director Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe said […]

Rendering of Block V Virginia-class submarine with Virginia Payload Module. General Dynamics Electric Boat Image

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy is still on track to deploy hypersonic weapons on its attack submarines in 2028, a service official said Thursday.

While the first Zumwalt-class destroyer will get a hypersonic weapon in 2025, the first Virginia-class submarine will deploy with hypersonics in 2028, Strategic Systems Programs director Vice Adm. Johnny Wolfe said today at the annual Naval Submarine League symposium.

“We are on a path and we’ve been hitting our milestones. We’ve been doing everything that we told Congress we were going to do. We’re going to deploy Conventional Prompt Strike – well for the Army it’s called Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon – or the all-up round. It is going to be exactly the same for the Army and the Navy and the Navy – whether it goes on Zumwalt or whether it goes on Virginia – it is the exact same round,” Wolfe said.

“We’re going to deploy it to the Army in FY-23 – they’ll deploy their first battery. We’re on a path to get to the first Zumwalt in ’25,” he added. “And then we’re on a path to get to the first Virginia class in ‘28, once that submarine comes out with Virginia Payload Module. And we’re looking at ways – can we accelerate that even sooner and to the block buys with the Virginia.”

Wolfe said that while the Navy originally intended to field hypersonics on the four guided-missile variants of the Ohio-class submarines in 2025, it had to alter plans due to budget cuts that prevented the service from building an underwater test facility. Because of the delay and the impending retirement of the Ohio-class boats, the Navy opted to put the weapons on the Virginia-class submarines instead.

“We’ve got to restart this year our inner launch testing. We got put on pause because of budget, because of some budget cuts. But we’re going to restart that this year. And that inner launch testing really is to make sure that we understand ultimately how we’re going to get to Virginia. We’re going to resume building and we are going to build an underwater launch test facility that is going to be absolutely critical to proving this before we get to the first Virginia class,” Wolfe said.
“And that’s going to give us, again, a full-up test facility so that we understand how that system’s going to work as it comes out.”

Asked how the Navy could speed up the timeline to place hypersonics on the Virginia-class boats, Wolfe said it depends on completion of the underwater facility.

“We’re trying to leverage Zumwalt even though it’s different – it’s a surface platform – but a lot of the things that we’re going to test on Zumwalt are still going to be applicable to Virginia. And we’re looking at how we can get that learning to get to a platform sooner,” Wolfe said. “But a lot of it’s going to be driven by how much budget do we have to get the underwater launch test facility done, to get the rounds into production, so that if we’ve got a platform that’s available earlier, the weapons system will be ready to go on that.”

The Zumwalt-class destroyer will be the first at-sea platform to field hypersonic weapons in 2025, USNI News previously reported. Wolfe said the Navy and the shipbuilders are still figuring out the maximum number of hypersonic weapons the Zumwalt destroyers can carry.

As the service gears up for this timeline, the Navy will perform two all-up round flight tests in Fiscal Year 2022.

“We’re going to do all of the other testing around it to make sure it is safe, and make sure that we understand all of these sensitive munitions, and all of the things,” Wolfe said. “And we’re going to start ramping up to where we get to five advanced payload modules, which will go into the DDG-1000 and go into the Virginia.”

The Navy recently performed several tests for Conventional Prompt Strike, the name for the service’s hypersonic weapons program. Late last month, the Navy announced it performed the second of two first stage tests of the solid rocket motor in Utah.

“If you just look at where we’ve been at here in the last year, we’ve actually had three successful solid rocket motor static tests here recently. We did three of them. We did two first stage and we did one second stage. We’ve completed our first slug test that proves that we understand the capability to actually eject this weapon – because it’s got to be cold launch, right,” Wolfe said.
“So we just came through understanding all of that technology on how we’re going to do cold launch and that was extremely successful. We’ve completed our first vibration test vehicle, which is really the first full-up vehicle that we’ve built in the new facility that was stood up to produce this weapon. We’ve done that. And we’ve actually had it out, we’ve actually shipped it out to prove all the logistics as well.”

Wolfe also pointed to a recent test at Wallops Island last month, when the service launched three rockets in one day, as an example of how the Navy can now experiment with multiple technologies at once that may be at different phases of development. The three-rocket test featured 21 experiments, he said.

To ensure sailors continue to field the most updated technology, the Navy adds in time for the program to receive new technology into its schedule ahead of time.

“We’ve got technology insertion points on two-year centers. So every two years, when we have a technology that’s ready – that’s either been proved in labs and we’ve got confidence in it, or that we’ve done sounding rocket tests – whatever it is, when it’s to the right technology readiness level, we’ve already had pre-designated insertion points planned in the program that we’re going to cut it in,” Wolfe said.
“When a technology’s ready, we’re going to figure out how to get it into the system because that’s how we’re going to stay ahead of what everybody else is doing. That’s how we’re going to continue to put capability in our warfighter’s hand.”

Pentagon officials have recently voiced concern over a hypersonic test China performed over the summer. Outgoing Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. John Hyten told reporters last month that the U.S. has conducted nine hypersonic tests in the last five years, while China has performed hundreds during the same timeframe.

“Single digits versus hundreds is not a good place. Now it doesn’t mean we’re not moving fast for the development process of hypersonics. But what it does tell you is that our approach to development is fundamentally different than it used to be,” Hyten said at the time.

Wolfe argued that the U.S. understands the hypersonic technology, but has only recently had an urgent need for it due to a strategy focused on countering China and Russia.

“We’ve been looking at hypersonics for 20 plus years okay, alright. It’s just up until we’ve gotten to this point of great power competition and we’ve watched what China’s doing from the [anti-access and area denial], right, and [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command] and we watch what Russia’s now doing in the Atlantic – I will tell you it’s not a fact of do we understand the technology. We understand the technology. We just never had a need prior to this to really take that technology and turn it into a system that we can” use, Wolfe said.

The admiral said the industrial base buildup has already started so it can keep up with demand once the military starts fielding hypersonics on the designated platforms.

“We’ve got to do everything that we can do in parallel, not serial, with a sense of urgency so that when we have successful flight tests coming up here and we get ready to deploy this system to the Army, to DDG-1000, and ultimately Virginia, we have already got the capacity to be able to meet the demand of what the [combatant commanders] are going to want. So we’ve really started that.”

While Wolfe is focused on offensive hypersonics, he said he often confers with Missile Defense Agency director Vice Adm. Jon Hill to share information that could help MDA determine the best ways to defense against the hypersonic capabilities of Russia and China.

“Every time we test some of our systems, right, you can count on the fact that I’m talking to Adm. Hill at the Missile Defense Agency so that the learning we get for our offensive systems, he gets that learning to understand what does that mean to him in the missile defense world so that he can start to look at how he would counter what China and Russia are doing in hypersonics,” Wolfe said.

Top Stories 2020: U.S. Navy Acquisition

This post is part of a series of stories looking back at the top naval news from 2020. 2020 may be among the most consequential years for Navy acquisition in recent memory, with the service making big moves in support of its Distributed Maritime Operations operating concept. 2020 was the year the Navy officially started construction […]

Attack boat Vermont (SSN-792) float-off on March 29, 2019. General Dynamics Electric Boats Photo

This post is part of a series of stories looking back at the top naval news from 2020. 2020 may be among the most consequential years for Navy acquisition in recent memory, with the service making big moves in support of its Distributed Maritime Operations operating concept. 2020 was the year the Navy officially started construction on the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program, a massive every-other-generation effort to replace the sea-based nuclear deterrent subs. It was also the year the Constellation-class guided-missile frigate program was awarded to Fincantieri, who will design and build what will become a centerpiece of the future distributed fleet. It was the year the Navy called for an end to the F/A-18E-F Super Hornet program, reinvesting that money into a longer-range next-generation fighter that could help silence critics who say the aircraft carrier will be useless against China because the air wing’s range is too short. And it was the year the Navy and its Marine Corps partners moved out on a Light Amphibious Warship that could revolutionize how the Fleet Marine Force moves around a maritime theater in support of sea control and sea denial.

Surface Ships

Fincantieri FFG(X) Design based on the FREMM. Fincantieri Image

The surface fleet is among the parts of the Navy most changed by Distributed Maritime Operations. Rather than the Navy’s recent reliance on guided-missile cruisers and destroyers to drill with allies and partners, patrol chokepoints and conduct freedom of navigation operations, the Navy will instead rely on a large fleet of small combatants to do much of this day-to-day work, freeing up a smaller number of destroyers to conduct higher-end operations and haul around large, long-range missiles. Key to this plan is the success of the Constellation-class frigate. The Navy awarded a $795-million contract to Fincantieri on April 30 to do detail design work and build the first frigate in the class. Options for as many as nine more ships would bring the total value to $5.58 billion if exercised. Fincantieri beat out four other competitors with a design based on the FREMM multi-mission frigate already operated by the French and Italian navies. It will build the frigate at its Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin. In October, the class officially received a name, with Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite announcing the first-in-class ship would be USS Constellation (FFG-62) – after it was nearly named USS Agility by former SECNAV Thomas Modly earlier in the year. Though there will be fewer large combatants in the fleet, their mission will remain important: Navy leadership has said the large combatants of the future will haul around the biggest missiles, including hypersonic weapons.

USS Detroit (LCS-7) sails in formation with the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Lassen (DDG-82), USS Preble (DDG-88) and USS Farragut (DDG-99) while conducting maritime security operations in the Caribbean Sea. US Navy Photo

The Navy is still struggling to figure out how to get the ship it needs for a price it can afford, given the deemphasis on the large combatant portfolio in future fleet plans. What was once a 2023 start to the Large Surface Combatant program was pushed to 2025 and then 2026 – and this year, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said the large combatant, which he calls “DDG-Next,” will begin detail design in 2026 and construction in 2028. New and important to the DMO concept – and the related Marine Corps concepts of Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment (LOCE) and Expeditionary Advance Base Operations (EABO) – are the Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) and the Next-Generation Logistics Ship (NGLS) programs that kicked off this year. After some Marine Corps officials had kicked around the idea of a stern-landing vessel for EABO operations last year, in February the Navy included in its Fiscal Year 2021 budget request $30 million each to begin working on the new amphib and new logistics ship.

Sea Transport Solutions Image

Throughout the summer, the vision of what LAW would become grew clearer, as the Marines made the case for small units operating outside the Amphibious Ready Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit construct. These units would move from shore to shore, providing the joint force forward refueling and rearming capabilities in remote locations, collecting intelligence, providing anti-ship and even anti-submarine strike capabilities, and more. Their small footprint and maneuverability with the LAWs would make them hard for an adversary to detect and hit. By the fall, a cost estimate of about $100 million apiece, as well as requirements for length, storage capacity, crewing and more emerged, showing the dedication to begin buying the ships in FY 2022. According to the long-range shipbuilding plan that accompanied the release of Battle Force 2045, the Next-Generation Logistics Ship would kick off procurement in FY 2023, though much less is known about that new ship compared to the LAW. This medium-sized ship would be able to help resupply the distributed Navy and Marine forces operating under DMO and EABO, while blending in with local merchant traffic and being harder for an adversary to target and disrupt the flow of supplies into theater. It’s unclear how far along the Navy is in developing its requirements. A previous effort for a somewhat larger set of ships to do resupply and other missions, called the Common Hull Auxiliary Multi-mission Platform (CHAMP), has hit several roadblocks as its price tag remains higher than Navy and White House officials are comfortable spending on an auxiliary ship.

Submarines

Virginia-class submarine Delaware (SSN-791) was moved out of a construction facility into a floating dry dock using a transfer car system in 2018. HII Photo

The Navy in November awarded $9.47 billion to General Dynamics Electric Boat to officially start construction on the first ballistic-missile submarine in the Columbia class. This SSBN program is the Navy’s all-important program with no room for error or delays, after all schedule margin was eaten up in the early days of the program and the future USS Columbia (SSBN-826) must be ready for its first patrol in the fall of 2030. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Columbia program remained on track, in a nod to the importance on the program and the Navy prioritizing resources – available workers, materials and money – to keeping this program on track, even if it means attack submarines or aircraft carriers slipping in schedule. Still, though the program has remained on track, the Navy announced last month it was looking at extending the life of the legacy Ohio-class SSBNs – again – to provide a bit of additional capacity for combatant commanders and a bit of cushion in case there are hiccups in the future with the Columbia program. Partly as a result of keeping Columbia on track, the Virginia-class attack submarines slipped further behind in production this year, after already having some schedule delays as the program tried to maintain a two-a-year production rate. Threatening to further challenge the program was a White House proposal to buy just one SSN in FY 2021, which would throw off the workflow for thousands of suppliers trying to smoothly ramp up their production rates to accommodate both the Virginia and the Columbia programs. The White House reversed course in late November and expressed support for a second Virginia sub. Looking towards the future, the Navy this year made headway planning for its Block VI Virginia design – which would add new capability and lethality such as improved stealth and the ability to conduct seabed warfare – as well as the SSN(X) design that would build upon both Block VI and the Columbia SSBN design. All told, the Navy is trying to morph its attack submarine fleet to something closer to the Seawolf class, which was designed to operate deep into Soviet waters and go head-to-head with peer adversary subs, compared to the Virginia class which was originally designed for land-attack and intelligence-collection missions.

Carrier Aviation

Sailors assigned to the air department aboard the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) prepare to launch an F/A-18F Super Hornet attached to the Gladiators of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 during flight operations, March 29, 2020. US Navy Photo

Even as the Navy continued on with its Ford-class carriers this year, questions began swirling about the class’s future and what might come next to either replace or to supplement the Ford-class supercarrier. In March, Modly kicked off a Blue-Ribbon Future Carrier 2030 Task Force to look at the future of aircraft carriers and whether the U.S. Navy would stick with the Ford class beyond the future Doris Miller (CVN-81), whether it would move to a different nuclear-powered carrier design, or whether it would use conventionally powered carriers. Despite the prominent figures on the task force, it was not particularly well received: any reduction in demand for nuclear ship components could break the fragile industrial base, some worried, while others were concerned that the 11-carrier fleet was already overworked today and that the task force could lead to a reduction in CVNs in the future without a reduction in demand for their presence in theater. Though the study itself was canceled just two months later by Acting SECNAV James McPherson, the idea lingered: former Defense Secretary Mark Esper became interested in the notion of a conventionally powered light carrier to supplement the nuclear-powered supercarrier, and after months of study he settled on a plan to field eight to 11 CVNs – possibly down from today’s 11 – and supplement them with as many as six CVLs. He and Navy officials conceded that much work needed to be done to figure out what the CVL would look like and how to balance the two classes of ships.

Aviation Ordnancemen assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) weapons department bring inert training bombs up to the flight deck during flight operations May 30, 2020. Ford is underway in the Atlantic Ocean conducting integrated air wing operations. US Navy photo.

Despite the questions about the future of carriers, the Ford-class program continued along, with USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) at times spending more days at sea than in port to conduct post-delivery tests and trials and get ready for full-ship shock trials next summer. Despite PDT&T moving ahead of schedule and the troubled Advanced Weapons Elevators finally coming online in numbers, the Navy fired its CVN-78 program manager and brought in a captain with “proven program management acumen and extensive waterfront experience” to see Ford through its remaining work before being fully turned over to the fleet for a maiden deployment.

Aircraft

An F/A-18E Super Hornet, attached to the ‘Dambusters’ of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 195, prepares to land on the flight deck of USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) on Oct. 16, 2020. US Navy Photo

In a major move for carrier aviation, the Navy announced in February in its FY 2021 budget request that it would not continue Super Hornet production beyond the end of the current multiyear contract, which runs through FY 2021. Funding that had been planned for another contract for FY 2022 through 2024 would instead be diverted to “accelerated development of Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) and other key aviation wholeness investments.” With little fanfare, the Navy stood up an NGAD program office under Naval Air Systems Command in May and quickly began industry talks. Though investing in NGAD was the primary reason for ending the Super Hornet line, the Navy also said that stopping new Super Hornet production would free up the production line for Super Hornet life extension work, which the Navy needs to add capability to the jets and keep them around long enough for a replacement to be designed and built.

Sailors assigned to Fleet Logistics Multi-Mission Squadron (VRM) 30 direct a CMV-22B Osprey from the ‘Titans’ of VRM 30 on the flight deck of Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) on Nov. 20, 2020. US Navy Photo

Supporting a near-term change for the carrier air wing, Bell-Boeing delivered the first CMV-22B Osprey to the Navy in February, allowing the Navy to start a short test and evaluation program before turning the aircraft over to the operational squadron that will support the first deployment in 2021. The Navy needs the CMV-22 to serve as its new carrier onboard delivery (COD) platform because the legacy C-2 Greyhound cannot carry a large F-35C engine; the Osprey could carry the engine out to an aircraft carrier and would also have the added flexibility of being able to bring people and supplies directly to the other ships in the strike group, which can support the V-22 landing on their helicopter decks. USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) will make the first deployment with the F-35C in 2021, so the CMV-22 needs to be ready too for that deployment. Looking a few years out, the Navy is making good progress on its MQ-25A Stingray unmanned carrier-based refueling tanker. In April the Navy exercised a contract option to buy three more aircraft from Boeing, and in December the Stingray made its first flight with the refueling system attached under its wings.

Unmanned Systems

Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV) prototype Sea Hunter pulls into Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii on Oct. 31, 2018. US Navy Photo

In other unmanned news, the Navy set off down a path to design and build medium and large unmanned surface vessels of its own, after earlier work had been done with Pentagon-purchased USVs. L3 Technologies in July won a $35-million contract to develop a prototype Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MUSV), with options for eight follow-on craft that could bring the contract to a value of $281 million. In September, the Navy awarded six companies contracts to begin determining what the service’s Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle will look like. Austal USA, Huntington Ingalls Industries, Fincantieri Marinette, Bollinger Shipyards, Lockheed Martin and Gibbs & Cox each won about $7 million for LUSV design studies. Using Pentagon-built prototypes, the Navy operated the Sea Hunter medium USV with a carrier strike group this year, and an Overlord large USV conducted the first-ever autonomous transit of the Panama Canal as it sailed from the Gulf of Mexico to Southern California. In the undersea domain, just this week the Navy released its final request for proposals for the Snakehead Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (LDUUV) program, with the intention to select a single vendor next year to begin designing and building two prototypes.

Plans and Budgets

USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and USS Nimitz (CVN-68) and their carrier strike groups (CSGs) steam in formation on July 6, 2020. US Navy Photo

Though many of these moves in 2020 will be instrumental in creating the fleet the Navy and Marine Corps know they need to deter China or win a fight if needed – especially the unmanned vessels, the light amphib and the frigate – the exact future shipbuilding plans for the Navy are still unclear. After the Navy and Marine Corps wrapped up an Integrated Naval Force Structure Assessment in January, Esper did not agree it was the right plan. He ultimately kicked off a Pentagon-led Future Naval Force Study that worked from February to October to look at what the sea services needed to do to be prepared to beat China in a fight in the 2045 timeframe. This effort led to a Battle Force 2045 plan that had all the same themes as the Navy’s original INFSA earlier in the year. The Pentagon couched the differences as a matter of timelines and how aggressively to begin making changes: The Navy had been focused on a 2030 timeframe and what needed to happen quickly to overhaul the fleet in the next decade to support DMO, LOCE and EABO. The Pentagon instead took a longer view meant to incorporate what kind of threat China could ultimately become in the long run and therefore what the Navy and Marines would need to do to counter it – with the expectation that transformation would start now with that 2045 threat in mind. The plan will need buy-in from lawmakers, who have been largely unimpressed with the plans presented to them this year. The original FY 2021 budget request was called “dead on arrival” after it contained the smallest shipbuilding budget in years. The Battle Force 2045 and its accompanying long-range shipbuilding plan was panned for the opposite reason, for being out of touch with budget realities and calling for too quick a naval buildup.