UPDATE April 2009: Lots of folks are coming here looking for an image of the USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) because of the pirates story. The USS Bainbridge in this post is an older ship that was decommissioned in 1996. For an image of the new USS Bainbridge, go HERE.
Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., chairman of the seapower subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, said March 6 he is seeking to add money to the 2009 request to fund an effort to build a nuclear-powered warship that would supplant construction of the DDG 1000 destroyers.
The new ship would be a slightly larger version of the 9,200-ton DDG 51s, powered by one nuclear reactor of the type developed for the new Gerald R. Ford CVN 78-class aircraft carriers.
Taylor said he would end the DDG 1000 Zumwalt class at the two ships already ordered and cancel plans to build a total of seven of the ships.
There’s not a lot of reason to be a major fan of the DDG-51s, but the DDG-1000s are one of the most compelling. At $3.3 billion (with a ‘B’) apiece, they threaten to derail the already-fragile shipbuilding plan if they go over budget or over schedule. And you know that they will be both way over budget and over schedule.
Compounding this concern is the fact that the Navy seems to be convinced that a larger DDG-1000 is the way to go for the CG(X) program, the class of ships that will replace the CG-47 Ticonderoga cruisers.
“There’s a significant challenge in and of itself of going nuclear on any surface combatant,” Navy Secretary Donald Winter told reporters following the hearing. “To be able to do that within fiscal constraints on an existing platform that was never designed to accommodate a nuclear reactor further complicates the matter. Never say never – I’m sure there’s somebody someplace who will figure out how to do it. The question is, does that wind up being a cost-effective solution?”
Now, I realize that there are all sorts of factors working against putting a nuclear reactor into a DDG-51. But to hear someone use “fiscal constraints” as an argument against it and questioning the “cost-effectiveness” of it while simultaneously supporting the DDG-1000 is surreal at best.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead, who, as a commander, commissioned the second Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, doubted a reactor could be placed in the DDG 51 hull.
“I built one, crawled all through it,” Roughead told reporters. “I’m not a marine engineer, but to put a nuclear power plant in that hull, even if you scale it up – I question whether you can do it.”
Again, there would no doubt be many challenges. And I’m not really arguing in favor of it. But let’s not forget the USS Bainbridge (CGN 25), built at the end of the 1950s. Before she was the CGN 25, she was the DLGN 25, a guided missile destroyer leader. In the 1975 ship reclassification, she was redesignated a cruiser.
Here’s a comparison of the Bainbridge to the Burke, with the USS Leahy (CG 16) tossed in because the Bainbridge was a modified Leahy-class ship, much like some are proposing to modify the Burke-class design for nukes:
I don’t know by how much, but today’s nuclear reactors are significantly smaller than those of 1961. The Burke’s smaller crew would help, though there would likely be some additions due to the power plant.