Axing DDG 1000 Radar May Save Cash, Enable BMD

he Pentagon's move to delete half the radar system for the U.S. Navy's DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class destroyers could save more than $600 million and may eventually open the door to giving the ships a ballistic missile defense capability, industry sources said.

The decision to eliminate the S-band Volume Search Radar (VSR) from the ship's Dual Band Radar (DBR), announced June 1 as part of a program restructuring brought on by a Nunn-McCurdy breach, means the ship will rely on the Raytheon SPY-3 X-band Multi-Function Radar (MFR) as its primary radar.

The Navy was unwilling to discuss how much money the move will save.

One source said it would be at least $100 million per ship, while an industry source said it would be "at least" $200 million for each of the three planned Zumwalts.

In letters sent to Congress on June 1 to explain the Nunn-McCurdy breaches, DoD acquisition chief Ashton Carter also said the initial operational capability (IOC) for the Zumwalt had been shifted from 2015 to 2016.

One source said the move reflects a "more realistic date" and is more in line with production and contractual realities.

The DDG 1000 was one of six programs whose cost growth required the Pentagon to reassert that the program "is essential to the national security." Its Nunn-McCurdy breach was due to the Navy's mid-2008 decision to cut the number of ships in the class from seven to three. Since development and test costs remain the same regardless how many ships are built, the decision boosted average individual cost per ship.

Navy leaders said changing priorities led them to cut DDG 1000 production and re-start DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyer production. More ballistic missile defense (BMD) was needed, and the Navy chose to continue development of the Lockheed Martin Aegis combat system, carried by the DDG 51s, for sea-based BMD.

Sources said the decision to eliminate the VSR was "purely a budget decision" and not a reflection of any decision to install BMD capability in the ships.

But an industry source insisted the move meant space, weight and power would be available for the possible future installation of a BMD radar - which could be the Air Missile Defense Radar (AMDR), currently in the early stages of development. The Navy plans to fit that radar, which will be designed from the start to handle ballistic missile defense, into new Flight III versions of its venerable DDG 51-class destroyer. The first Flight III ship is scheduled to be ordered in 2016.

"Given that the Navy is engaged in the AMDR competition for the future S-band radar, why spend the money on a three- or four-of-a-kind approach to create these one-offs, when in fact, in about the same schedule, you can have a fairly good match to whatever comes out of the AMDR program?" the industry source said.

"You could do it," a technical source said. "If Zumwalt were to stay around and take on a BMD mission, it's certainly an option."

Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin bid for the AMDR contract in April, and the Navy is considering whether to downselect to one or two competitors or move ahead with all three. An announcement could come as early as September, according to the industry source.

The same technical source, however, noted that the Navy is requiring the AMDR phased array to fit into the 12-foot hole that currently houses the Aegis system's SPY-1 radar, and the VSR.

Prime contractor for the DBR is Raytheon, which is responsible for the SPY-3 MFR and the controllers that marry the system with the SPY-4 S-band volume search radar, whose arrays are made by Lockheed Martin. Navy officials confirmed the DBR still is to be installed on the new aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), already under construction by Northrop Grumman, and on the as-yet-unnamed CVN 79. No decision has been made on the radar for carriers beyond CVN 79.

In the case of the carriers, the VSR will replace two large air search radars carried by current ships, and also become the primary air traffic control radar.

The Navy has been testing both radars for some time. The SPY-3 MFR reportedly has exceeded technical expectations and will receive upgrades to give it a better volume search capability.

The VSR encountered "no serious problems," according to an industry source, although its performance "was acceptable but somewhat below expectations." Combined with dramatic cost growth - the radar was originally forecast to come in at about $20 million per ship - "it simply became a cost-benefit tradeoff." The drop in the number of radars that would be built also contributed to the radar's cost growth, the industry source said.

The Navy was apparently caught off guard by the June 1 announcements. Although the service realized by late 2008 that the program would be in breach of Nunn-McCurdy, service officials were unable to respond to media queries following the June 1 Pentagon press briefing.

The service did not respond to repeated requests by Defense News to speak to an informed expert on the subject, and a seven-question press query took three days to process.

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