With all the attention being given to reducing the cost of national defense, it is important to acknowledge the value of upgrading current platforms to provide them with additional capability and, hopefully, longer service lives. The Army has a program to upgrade its fleets of Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and Stryker wheeled vehicles. The Air Force is modernizing its fleet of A-10 ground attack aircraft and, according to Secretary Gates, will modernize its fleet of aging F-15s with new radars.
One of the best examples of getting more “bang-for-the-buck” is the Navy’s program to upgrade the fleet of Aegis cruisers and destroyers. This is a major change in the Navy’s strategy for maintaining a viable fleet in the 21st century. Unfortunately, this change occurred only after the Navy had seen fit to decommission 35 Kidd and Spruance class destroyers, five early Ticonderoga class cruisers and several dozen Los Angeles class attack submarines with much of their serviceable life remaining. Given the current state of the naval shipbuilding budget, it is vital that the Navy be able to deploy all the remaining Aegis-capable surface combatants through their full life spans.
The current plan is to modernize all 22 Aegis cruisers. One of the most important aspects of the program to upgrade the remaining Aegis cruisers is the effort to reduce maintenance and manning costs. The movement to an open architecture, albeit late in coming, is an important step in this direction. An open architecture will substantially reduce the cost of softer upgrades, allow for modernization with less expensive computer systems and even shorten training cycles. Similarly, the new, integrated command and control system will allow for more efficient management of ships. Along with a number of upgrades to mechanical systems, these changes will allow for improved performance and lower maintenance costs.
The Aegis upgrade program also involves improvements to the ships’ capacity for surface, anti-air and anti-submarine warfare. The five-inch gun system is being improved to enhance engagement distances and to support more accurate fires and the use of precision accuracy projectiles. The ships’ ASW suite is being similarly improved, increasing their capability to detect quiet diesel-electric submarines.
The growing air and ballistic missile threat makes improvements to the Aegis combat system of vital importance to fleet’s self-defense. The ability of the AN/SPQ-9B radar to detect fast, sea-skimming missiles in dense clutter is a major enhancement to the performance of Aegis. When this improvement is coupled with the deployment of the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye surveillance and command and control aircraft, the capability of fleet units to realize the objective of the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air program, which is to integrate and enhance all anti-air warfare capabilities, will be significantly enhanced.
A total of five cruisers and 16 DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyers have been outfitted with a ballistic missile defense capability. In addition, the Navy is equipping several dozen Aegis ships with the new Ballistic Signal Processor that provides an advanced discrimination capability to defeat more complex ballistic missile threats. Coupled to the Standard Missile 3, the Aegis fleet will have a potent anti-ballistic missile capability.
The combination of upgraded Aegis cruisers and destroyers, plus new build DDG-51s, will give the Navy a potent and relatively cost effective multi-mission capability for decades to come. In that time, the Navy must decide what its future surface combatant force needs to look like.
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