Navy builds 2nd new super high-tech Flight III destroyer

Armed with advanced lasers, cruise missiles and ship-defense interceptor weapons, the Navy’s emerging DDG 51 Flight III destroyers are designed to conduct and win major ocean wars against advanced, high-powered enemies.

As part of an accelerated effort to prepare these new ships, the Navy has now begun construction of its first new Flight III DDG 51 surface warfare destroyer at General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, Maine. Similar to its under-construction predecessor, the USS Jack Lucas (DDG 125), the BIW-constructed future USS Louis H. Wilson Jr. (DDG 126) will be armed with improved weapons, advanced sensors and new radar significantly more sensitive than most current systems, changing attack and defensive options for the surface fleet.

Recognizing the seriousness of fast-increasing enemy threats, the Navy is working with industry partners to integrate an entire family of new software, fire control and radar systems across its emerging fleet of DDG 51 Flight III Destroyers…. and a wide swath of its surface fleet. The goal is to not only arm surface ships with a new generation of highly sensitive, discriminating radar technology, but succeed in networking them to one another.

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With this technology, targets from beyond the horizon can be detected by one ship’s radar system, which can then share the “track” information with vulnerable ships miles away. Target data can be passed along, or networked, enabling ship commanders to have more time to identify the best response to the attack. Is a rapid counterattack the best option? Perhaps an interceptor missile might be the better option with which to defend a ship?

As a new class of warship, Navy Flight III Destroyers have a host of defining new technologies not included in current ships, such as more on-board power to accommodate laser weapons, new engines, improved electronics, fast-upgradeable software and a much more powerful radar.

The Flight III Destroyers will be able to see and destroy a much wider range of enemy targets at farther distances, due to the integration of a new, advanced technology radar system called AN/SPY-6 radar. This means that the ship can succeed in more quickly detecting both approaching enemy drones, helicopters and low flying aircraft as well as incoming ballistic missiles.

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The Navy’s Above Water Sensors Program Manager, Capt. Jason Hall explained that the success of the radar systems is inspiring the service to explore new platforms for the technology and pursue a series of weapons and fire control network upgrades moving forward.

Hall said that DDG 51 Flight III Destroyers set the technical foundation for the entire fleet, bringing the possibility that the new combat system and radar built into Flight III may expand to other surface ships. “We plan to leverage this combat system as we look at Frigate, amphibs and carriers,” Hall said Jan. 15 at the Surface Naval Association Annual Symposium, Arlington, Va, referring to SPY-6 radar integration.

The SPY-6 family advances the technical curve in a number of tactically significant respects, in part because it can combine ballistic missile defense and air and missile defense into a single integrated system. This synergy gives the system an ability to track and help destroy enemy drones, aircraft, cruise missiles and long-range incoming ballistic missiles.

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“A lot of this is in the back end in the digital processing, so it is a huge change. Digital is a big change from the analog of old days, which gives you a lot of the improved discrimination, sensitivity,” Hall said.

Hall said this back-end digital processing and a radar suite controller operate in tandem with a next-generation X-band solid-state radar.

“We are building the arrays for this ship. We have run the gamut as to what this radar can do. We have simultaneous weapons support functions. We have electronic protection and environmental protection,” Hall explained.

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The Navy’s Flight III Combat Systems include the SPY-6 radar and an integrated warfare system called Aegis Baseline 10; the Baseline 10-SPY-6 integration will drive a new technical ability for the ship to combine air-warfare and ballistic missile defense into a single system, improving ship defenses, counterattack options and command and control decisions.

The SPY-6 has already been built into the USS Jack H. Lucas, which will be the Navy’s first Flight III destroyer.

Service officials say the Flight III ships use newly integrated hardware and software with common interfaces, something which will enable continued modernization in future years. Called TI 16 (Technical Integration), the added components are engineered to give Aegis Baseline 10 additional flexibility should it integrate new systems such as electronic warfare or laser weapons, according to Navy statements.

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Raytheon’s SPY-6 development is designed to align with the Navy’s existing Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) strategy; the Navy’s DMO research and development approach, which has been progressing over the past year, is intended to better enable “localized sea control to generate larger combat effects through increasing the offensive power of individual components of the naval force,” as explained in a Naval Postgraduate School Research Summary by Paul Berry.