Couldn’t see this coming:
The demand for BMD ships is expected to increase, driven in part by rising concerns about Iran’s intentions and the U.S. decision in September to cancel an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic and rely instead on Aegis.
But the Navy has a relatively small number of such ships, and those destroyers and cruisers are designed to carry out a wide range of war-fighting tasks. As a result, while Navy commanders are pleased with the expanding capabilities of their Aegis ships, they’re also somewhat guarded about trumpeting the advances.
“We can’t constrain assets to one mission,” a senior officer said last month. “They need to do a variety of other missions.”
The fleet is smaller than its been in almost a hundred years, yet when you factor in the need for on-station missile defense for allies, there’s suddenly more ocean to cover than ever before. The fact that billion-dollar ship will be turned into stationary missile platforms because land-based BMD was canceled is a crime.
Last March I pointed out a story about Teaching Old Aegis New Tricks. The BMD system is being upgraded to allow SM-2 missiles to intercept short-range ballistic missiles. This will allow SM-3s to be “saved” for longer range threats, but it doesn’t do anything to increase the number of available BMD ships.
The first thing to do is get the BMD upgrade to more Arleigh Burkes. There are currently 56 of them in the fleet, with at least 7 more coming. With the DD(X) program being scaled back, it seems likely that there will be even more of them.
What I’d really like to see, though is a 21st-century FFG 7 frigate. I’ve written about this before. First of all, the current remaining ships are getting long in the tooth. The newest is 20 years old. Several other nations have them in service, and everyone is interested in extending their lives.
Though “cheap” is always a relative term, it describes the FFG 7s pretty well. I continue to think that a 21st century FFG 7 is one of the things we should really be looking at. Take some of the automation and newer high-tech innovations from the past couple of decades and work them into a FFG 7 hull. Save some space by cutting down on crew size (slightly) and maybe kick up the power a notch or two.
What would it take to put AEGIS and a dozen or two VLS tubes on a FFG 7-type frigate? Could you put the VLS amidships where the current 76mm gun is? You could put the gun forward where the Mk13 missile launcher used to be. (I’m thinking the VLS wouldn’t fit forward.)
If this would be possible, we could build relatively cheap (so to speak) multi-purpose ships based on a proven design that could help fill a number of gaps. This would address BMD needs, general escort and presence needs, and even help for things like the pirate problem off Somalia. Recently the call went out for more frigates over there, but there just aren’t enough to go around.
Even if BMD on frigates isn’t workable, or affordable when you factor in the AEGIS, I think we need frigates more than we need a huge fleet of Littoral Combat Ships.