San Diego Union-Tribune

July 6, 2001

Pentagon may sink high-tech destroyers
   Preliminary reviews give new warship low marks

By Otto Kreisher 

WASHINGTON -- A warship high on the Navy's wish list may become one of the biggest victims of the Pentagon's ongoing reviews of defense needs.

The Navy had expected to award a contract to start building the planned 32 DD-21 destroyers two months ago, but the program is on hold as contractors and the Navy anxiously await the results this fall of the final defense review.

Though Navy and industry officials express confidence that the DD-21 will survive that review, independent analysts say it got low marks on preliminary
studies and question its role and the Navy's efforts to promote it.

"The notion of a very large, very expensive, complex ship for close-in combat didn't make sense," said Daniel Goure, a defense analyst who worked on some of the Pentagon reviews.

The Navy conceived the high-tech destroyer as a way to deliver powerful and precise naval strikes deep inland, with one-third the crew of current warships and with unmatched stealth and agility to avoid hits.

It would have revolutionary propulsion, radar and automated management and damage-control systems that would set the stage for other warships and a space-age cannon that would shoot five times farther and with greater
accuracy than any current naval gun.

And it is supposed to cost less to build and far less to operate than any current U.S. warship.

But the Navy's frothy superlatives apparently did not impress the panels studying the future of the U.S. military.

One panel decided the DD-21 was not a significant improvement over the Navy's current destroyer, the DDG-51.

A separate study of conventional weapons put the ship at the bottom of its priority list, calling it "less-compatible" with future missions than the DDG-51s, which were designed 20 years ago.

Andrew Krepinevich, director of a national security think tank who also worked on the defense reviews, has endorsed buying a few DD-21s to test against possible alternatives.

Although the Navy requested $355 million to continue researching technologies intended for the destroyer, it was not mentioned in the Bush administration's defense budget for next year.

A spokesman for one of the companies that hope to help build the ship complained that the defense review panels did not seriously study the advanced technology the DD-21 would contain.

"We believe this is a leap-ahead, both in technology and innovation," said Kendell Pease, communications director for General Dynamics. "This ship will change the culture of the United States Navy, from the way it fights to the way it lives."

Goure, however, said the Pentagon panels "gave it low marks not on technical grounds, rather because they did not see the virtue in a very large ship designed to go in close" to the enemy's shore.

The DD-21 is expected to be about 50 percent bigger than current surface warships. It would have 128 vertical launch tubes to carry a variety of long-range missiles, and two big guns capable of shooting highly accurate artillery rounds 100 miles to support Marine and Army land forces.

But critics note the $750 million ships would have to operate so close to hostile shores that they would be vulnerable to enemy missiles and aircraft.

"It is revolutionary from a technological point of view. . . . But do you want to spend that kind of money for the technology if the mission is wrong?" said Goure.