Tuesday, 5 June 2012

US banks on planned super-stealth destroyer against a rising China, "it really sucks"

Costs billions ... the DDG-1000, the US Navy's next-generation destroyer.
Costs billions ... the DDG-1000, the US Navy's next-generation destroyer. Photo: AP

A super-stealthy warship that could underpin the US Navy's China strategy will be able to sneak up on coastlines virtually undetected and pound targets with electromagnetic "railguns" right out of a sci-fi movie.

But at more than $US3 billion a pop, critics say the new DDG-1000 destroyer sucks away funds that could be better used to bolster a thinly stretched conventional fleet. One outspoken admiral in China has scoffed that all it would take to sink the high-tech American ship is an armada of explosive-laden fishing boats.

With the first of the new ships set to be delivered in 2014, the stealth destroyer is being heavily promoted by the Pentagon as the most advanced destroyer in history - a silver bullet of stealth. It has been called a perfect fit for what Washington now considers the most strategically important region in the world - Asia and the Pacific.

Though it could come in handy elsewhere, like in the Gulf region, its ability to carry out missions both on the high seas and in shallows closer to shore is especially important in Asia because of the region's many island nations and China's long Pacific coast.

"With its stealth, incredibly capable sonar system, strike capability and lower manning requirements - this is our future," Admiral Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, said in April after visiting the shipyard in Maine where they are being built.

On a visit to a major regional security conference in Singapore that ended on Sunday, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the Navy will be deploying 60 per cent of its fleet worldwide to the Pacific by 2020, and though he didn't cite the stealth destroyers he said new high-tech ships will be a big part of its shift.

The DDG-1000 and other stealth destroyers of the Zumwalt class feature a wave-piercing hull that leaves almost no wake, electric drive propulsion and advanced sonar and missiles. They are longer and heavier than existing destroyers - but will have half the crew because of automated systems and appear to be little more than a small fishing boat on enemy radar.

Down the road, the ship is to be equipped with an electromagnetic railgun, which uses a magnetic field and electric current to fire a projectile at several times the speed of sound.

But cost overruns and technical delays have left many defence experts wondering if the whole endeavour was too focused on futuristic technologies for its own good.

They point to the problem-ridden F-22 stealth jet fighter, which was hailed as the most advanced fighter ever built but was cut short because of prohibitive costs. Its successor, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, has swelled up into the most expensive procurement program in US Defence Department history.

"Whether the Navy can afford to buy many DDG-1000s must be balanced against the need for over 300 surface ships to fulfill the various missions that confront it," said Dean Cheng, a China expert with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research institute in Washington. "Buying hyperexpensive ships hurts that ability, but buying ships that can't do the job, or worse can't survive in the face of the enemy, is even more irresponsible."

The Navy says it's money well spent. The rise of China has been cited as the best reason for keeping the revolutionary ship afloat, although the specifics of where it will be deployed have yet to be announced. Navy officials also say the technologies developed for the ship will inevitably be used in other vessels in the decades ahead.

But the destroyers' $US3.1 billion price tag, which is about twice the cost of the current destroyers and balloons to $US7 billion each when research and development is added in, nearly sank it in Congress.
Though the Navy originally wanted 32 of them, that was cut to 24, then seven.

Now, just three are in the works.

"Costs spiraled - surprise, surprise - and the program basically fell in on itself," said Richard Bitzinger, a security expert at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. "The DDG-1000 was a nice idea for a new modernistic surface combatant, but it contained too many unproven, disruptive technologies."

The US Defence Department is concerned that China is modernising its navy with a near-term goal of stopping or delaying US intervention in conflicts over disputed territory in the South China Sea or involving Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province.

China is now working on building up a credible aircraft carrier capability and developing missiles and submarines that could deny American ships access to crucial sea lanes.

The US has a big advantage on the high seas, but improvements in China's navy could make it harder for US ships to fight in shallower waters, called littorals. The stealth destroyers are designed to do both. In the meantime, the Navy will begin deploying smaller Littoral Combat Ships to Singapore later this year.

Officially, China has been quiet on the possible addition of the destroyers to Asian waters.

But Rear Admiral Zhang Zhaozhong, an outspoken commentator affiliated with China's National Defence University, scoffed at the hype surrounding the ship, saying that despite its high-tech design it could be overwhelmed by a swarm of fishing boats laden with explosives. If enough boats were mobilised some could get through to blow a hole in its hull, he said.

AP

China laughs at Planned American Stealth destroyer "It really sucks"

The US Navy is readying a $7 billion boat that can launch attacks faster than the speed of sound and is practically invisible to detection. Even with that hefty cost, however, China says it will only take a few fishing boats to blow up the DDG-1000.

The chief of US naval operations says that the DDG-1000 super-stealth destroyer warship is the “future” of America’s on-the-water weaponry, and at that price tag it better be. Right now the ship is costing taxpayers around $3.1 billion but the price of research and development is likely to bring the tally to more than double. The ship is several years in the making and the first of its kind is expected to be ready by 2014, but critics in China — the very place Uncle Sam plans to send his up and coming fleet — are laughing at America’s latest endeavor.

"It would be a goner," Rear Adm. Zhang Zhaozhong of China's National Defense University tells the nation’s CCTV military channel.

The US intends on sending its newest ship towards China’s Pacific Coast where it will be able to monitor activity in the budding region without being easily detected. The boat’s wave-piercing hull will leave almost no wake in the water, reports the Associated Press, and upgrades to the ship will eventually equip it with electromagnetic railguns that can shoot projectiles by using an electric current and magnetic field to fire at enemy targets. Zhaozhong warns, however, that where the US invests in unnecessary weaponry and sleek, stealth technology, it fails to properly outfit the ship with the material to keep it from going kerplunk.

According to the AP, Zhaozhong claims that the DDG-1000’s impressive design could be easily overwhelmed by a mere fleet of fishing boats that are laden with explosives. If enough of those boats could be mobilized around the stealth ship, says Zhaozhong, its high-tech hull could be blown apart sending the boat straight to the bottom of the sea.

That, of course, is not how the Pentagon wants to spend a few billion dollars. "Whether the Navy can afford to buy many DDG-1000s must be balanced against the need for over 300 surface ships to fulfill the various missions that confront it," Dean Cheng, a China expert with the Heritage Foundation, adds to the AP. "Buying hyper-expensive ships hurts that ability, but buying ships that can't do the job, or worse can't survive in the face of the enemy, is even more irresponsible."

A 2008 report on the ship from US Navy Vice Admiral Barry McCullough revealed that “the DDG-1000 cannot perform area air defense” and that the ship essentially lacked any ability to fire at enemies located above, making it a sitting duck for air attacks. At the time, a naval source with Defense News said that the ship "could carry and launch standard missiles, but the DDG 1000 combat system cant guide those missiles onward to a target."

Off the sea and in the air, the Pentagon is having other problems with costly crafts that aren’t operating up to snuff. After a serviceman was killed on board an F-22 Raptor stealth jet in 2010, the Air Force has repeatedly grounded the fleet over security concerns. Recently, several pilots announced that they would refuse to board the craft until all of its kinks were worked out. The Air Force has spent around $77.4 billion on its F-22 fleet so far — the cost of building and maintaining around 11 of the DDG-1000s — but has been forced to ground them time and time again. Around $400billion worth of high-tech F-35 fighter jets have been grounded no fewer than three times as well.

Although the Navy first ordered 32 of the DDG-1000s, they have slashed that figure three times; once the first boat is finished, only two more are currently slated to join it.

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