New destroyers will be tech-laden

Pete Aldridge says the DD(X) program and its spiral development approach will be the model for Navy acquisition in the years to come.

The Navy wants to make systems in its new class of destroyers so sophisticated that they can spot targets using advanced sensors and fire their guns automatically at distances up to 100 miles.

The $2.9 billion, cost-plus-award-fee contract to design the DD(X) warships with integrated combat systems and advanced networking was awarded last month to Northrop Grumman Corp. The Navy wants ships with more sophisticated automation systems that will allow it to shrink crews. It will use what it calls a spiral development acquisition model to equip the ships with the latest technology.

Northrop and a team of subcontractors beat a bid by General Dynamics Corp., which surprised some in the industry considering Northrop entered the shipbuilding business only a year ago.
'It was very close,' said John Young, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. He declined to say why the Navy chose Northrop over General Dynamics.

Building backup

Last year, Northrop bought Litton Industries and Newport News Shipbuilding, giving it the resources to bid on the contract.

The design phase for DD(X) will include a layout for integrated combat systems and automated workstations so sailors could perform several tasks, from propulsion monitoring to radar steering, at the flick of a switch. The ships' network capabilities would let sailors connect with submarines, aircraft and satellites to collect timely information, Navy officials said.

Over the next four years, Northrop's Ship Systems sector and team partners Raytheon Co. and United Defense LP of Arlington, Va., will design, build and test about a dozen engineering models for the DD(X) program. The ship will be smaller than those in the Navy's aging fleet of destroyers, and because many functions will be automated, crew sizes will shrink from 300 to about 125, officials said.

The program could top $60 billion and include more than 50 ships, the first of which would be built in 2005, according to Kent Kresa, chairman and chief executive officer of Northrop Grumman.

The DD(X) program is just as much a breakthrough for its acquisition model as its ship design, said Edward C. 'Pete' Aldridge Jr., undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

Model seafarer

'This program and its spiral development approach will be the model for Navy acquisition in the years to come. DD(X) is the Joint Strike Fighter equivalent for shipbuilding,' Aldridge said, referring to the Defense Department project to build a high-tech aircraft for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

With the spiral development model, contractors will upgrade ships with the latest technology as they are designed and built.

'Spiral development is key,' said Jay Korman, a defense analyst with DFI International, an aerospace and Defense consulting firm in Washington. 'The problem with ship design is they lock in an architecture,' which is why Defense has typically lagged behind the commercial world in using technology, he said.

'This is kind of a test-as-you-go, develop-as-you-go concept,' Korman said.
Navy officials also said DD(X) will improve the quality of life for sailors, who will have PCs and Internet connections in their staterooms.

For the past eight years, the Navy has fine-tuned its plans to roll out a new wave of warships. The initial idea led them to a 32-ship fleet of destroyers named DD-21. But the Pentagon gave DD-21 harsh reviews last year, calling its single-mission platform too limited.

After that review, the Navy canceled the DD-21 destroyer program and replaced it with DD(X), a fleet of ships expected to be smaller, faster and more cost-efficient.

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