The U.S. Navy plans to acquire a next-generation cruiser that can defend its fleet, the rest of the joint force, and overseas allies against emerging airborne and ballistic-missile threats. These threats include stealthy strike aircraft, ground-hugging cruise missiles, and theater-range ballistic missiles equipped with maneuvering warheads. The challenge of coping with such threats is made worse by the fact that the Navy of the future will be operating in littoral regions where enemies are hard to distinguish from friends and neutrals. The primary mission of the new cruiser, designated CG(X), will be to promptly detect, track and engage airborne and ballistic threats before they can inflict harm on U.S. forces or interests.
Five basic performance requirements drive the design of the CG(X). First, it must be able to destroy hostile ballistic missiles during the midcourse of their trajectories, when they are hurtling through space. Second, it must be able to intercept a diverse collection of airborne threats, both manned and unmanned, which employ advanced technology and tactics to avoid detection. Third, it must be continually networked with the rest of the fleet, the joint force, and allies to assure that all relevant capabilities are brought to bear against airborne and ballistic threats. Fourth, it must be able to conduct other missions such as sea control and force projection while successfully performing its primary defensive missions. Finally, it must be scalable and adaptable to new threats that emerge during the 30 or more years it is operational.
The Navy has conducted a detailed analysis of alternatives identifying its options for developing the CG(X). It expects to build 19 warships, with the first such vessel reaching operational status at the end of the next decade. In order to facilitate timely development, the service will probably elect to use structural, mechanical and electrical elements already developed for the DDG-1000 class of land-attack destroyers. However, three key on-board systems will have to be substantially improved beyond what is available from the DDG-1000 in order to accomplish CG(X) defensive missions. The ship’s radar will need to be much more powerful and sensitive than any radar previously deployed at sea; the weapons used to engage future airborne and ballistic threats will need to be extremely agile and accurate; and the ship’s integrated electrical system will need to generate and condition very high levels of power for diverse applications.
Even if all of the supporting technologies necessary to make the CG(X) work are developed in a timely fashion, it will still be dependent on off-board systems such as carrier-based E-2D radar planes and Space-Based Infrared System missile warning satellites to overcome the surveillance constraints inherent in being a surface vessel. Beyond that, the basic architecture of the warship must be designed to accommodate regular upgrades of all capabilities as new threats emerge and new technologies become available. This requirement for continuous improvement dictates a design that it scalable, flexible and modular, making maximum use of open architectures to assimilate new innovations. It is neither feasible nor affordable to design a ship today that anticipates all the relevant developments through 2050, but the ship can incorporate principles of scalability that maximize the options available to future warfighters.
This report was written by Dr. Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute staff in consultation with other participants in the Naval Strike Forum.
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