The surface navy is looking for ways to deploy ships and weapons faster

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WASHINGTON — As the U.S. Navy transitions to fielding 10 new or upgraded ship classes over the next decade, the surface navy chief is considering how to deploy these ships and their more lethal capabilities more quickly. .

Commander of Surface Naval Forces Vice Admiral Roy Kitchener released “Surface Warfare: The Competitive Edge” in January, which outlines five overarching priorities, including improving how the Surface Navy introduces new ship types. . Since then, the surface community has detailed a number of ways to get new abilities for the fleet faster.

One such idea, according to Kitchener, focuses on how the Navy transitions newly built ships from the acquisition process to the fleet. Today, a new ship completes construction from the shipyard, sails to its port city, and almost immediately enters what’s called post-shakedown readiness – a period of maintenance to fix whatever broke during the shakedown. rigorous trials at sea and to complete work left unfinished by the construction yard, including the installation of the latest computer systems.

“Wait a second, I just finished the ship; now I am delaying it another six to eight months before I can start preparing it and passing it to the fleet commander for use,” Kitchener said.

The Constellation-class frigate will be the next all-new class of ship to enter the fleet, and Kitchener said he and other surface navy chiefs are seriously considering skipping post-shakedown availability and putting the ship straight in. in training for its first deployment.

“We want to make sure [the ships] are finished and we will go directly to the training cycle,” he said. “We will sort things out in stride as we normally do, then we will hand them over and certify them more quickly for the fleet commander.

The Navy can experiment with this model on one of its destroyers under construction to better understand what it would take to complete all construction and installation work before delivery.

Another of the 10 new ship capabilities slated for fielding over the next decade is the DDG Modernization 2.0 project, which will upgrade Arleigh Burke Flight IIA destroyers with new radars, combat systems and electronic warfare packages. .

In this case, the Navy planned for the modernization to take place in a single, very long shipyard period. Capabilities could reach the fleet faster if the Navy did installations in smaller chunks, moving upgrades more slowly but keeping more ships available for operations.

Indeed, a traditional approach to this massive modernization project could keep a destroyer offline for two years or more. Defense News previously reported that the Pinckney destroyer would spend 18 months in a shipyard to receive the electronic warfare package on its own – a pilot program to do the work in two installments while the Navy and industry learn more about how to to install and integrate the new capabilities – and would still require more offline time to get the radar and combat system.

“It’s a very complex and very time-consuming operation, so much so that it worries me that we really can’t take the DDGs offline for that long,” Kitchener said.

Splitting Pinckney’s work into two blocks is a start, but Kitchener said the program office and the acquisitions community are still considering other ways to bring this capability to the fleet in a shorter timeframe.

The Navy asked industry if they could bundle the work into modules that could be installed at different times; whether there is a different contractual approach that would facilitate faster re-delivery; and if there is a way to help shipyards learn faster to reduce the timeline for successive upgrades.

“It’s a great example of, OK, there’s a really good capability, a game-changing capability that we need in the fleet – but boy, the weather to get there is tough, and maybe you just want ships out there with great capacity, not this exquisite capacity,” Kitchener said.

Meanwhile, Kitchener said his East Coast counterpart — Commander Naval Surface Force Atlantic Rear Adm. Brendan McLane, who officially oversees the fleet introduction line of effort in the Competitive Edge document — has created a new staff position in Washington with the office ship program. This manager will attend gate reviews and other acquisition milestones and report to Kitchener and McLane if the program offices are not investing enough in training, spare parts and other catalysts for a transition in gently towards the fleet.

And, Kitchener said, the Navy is investing in more land-based engineering sites, including for the frigate and eventual destroyer DDG(X). He said testing at these facilities instead of the traditional approach – taking the first ship off the production line through lengthy tests in the water – will save money, find problems more early and resolve them while the ships are still under construction. This approach is also intended to free the lead ship of the program to begin training and deployment activities from being stuck in testing activities.

The Competitive Edge document lists the following 10 programs as they will be commissioned or under construction over the next 10 years:

• Zumwalt-class destroyers (DDG 1000)

• Configuration of the Arleigh Burke DDG 51 Flight III Class Guided Missile Destroyer

• Modernization of the Flight IIA DDG 51 class (DDG Mod 2.0)

• Improved lethality and survivability of coastal combat ships

• Constellation-class guided missile frigate (FFG 62)

• Light amphibious warfare vessel

• Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicles

• Large unmanned surface vehicles

• San Antonio LPD 17 Flight II Class Amphibious Transport Dock Configuration

• Next Generation Guided Missile Destroyers (DDG(X))

Megan Eckstein is a naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on US Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported on four geographic fleets and is happiest when recording stories from a ship. Megan is an alumnus of the University of Maryland.

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