Defense Is Strong: Take A Look At The Arleigh Burke Destroyers; The Best Of Class


The USN Truxtun. Commissioned in Charleston, SC, April 25, 2009. built in Pascagoula, MS.

The USN Truxtun. Commissioned in Charleston, SC, April 25, 2009. built in Pascagoula, MS.

While not a militarist, I point to the Arleigh Burke class of guided missile destroyers, the world’s most advanced destroyer class, whose motto is, “if it flies, it dies.” The US Navy calls it “a total weapons system, from detection to kill.” It can search, track, and direct fire simultaneously at more than a 100 targets. Its multi-mission capacity includes land, water surface, air, and underwater attacks against all known foes and current systems. Mississippi-built in Pascagoula and in Bath, Maine, its Aegis combat system makes it the world’s most advanced ship by two generations. Its various technologies are in high demand by our naval allies. These technologies are capable of hitting 24 inch targets traveling at 11,000 miles an hour at ranges that exceed 2,500 miles.

Defense, for most of the public, is a mystery. The political sirens avoid the specifics of US advanced weapon systems, including tests of electronic infantry weaponry that can shot and hit targets around corners. It sounds like comic book fantasy, but is openly described in Defense newsletters and blogs, in interviews by government and private officials.

Arleigh Burke class destroyers caught my eye when I met an Ex-O (Executive Officer, 2nd in command!) who was a woman, confident and trained to meet any challenge. Invited to visit the yet-to-be-commissioned ship, I stood at the bridge, its displays dark. I was within easy reach of dials and switches could defend against simultaneous attacks by air, land, and sea. Whether the attacks be by ships, submarines, aircraft, and land-based missiles, the bridge officer issues commands launching the ship’s loaded-in nuclear warheads, rockets, and torpedoes. Columnists and politicians speak of “decline,” warn of cuts, and create partisan fights. I think it is a blatantly unfair description of our readiness, and our technology.

The real military decline is in citizen participation. We have a volunteer military that privatizes war into a profession; the military is now a public enterprise rather than a public service. We thank those who serve, but the rest of us avoid military experience of underpaid, public duty. Its fiscal pain is in private, no bid contracting that produces shoddy, incomplete, dangerous work, massive waste (and profits!) through cost overruns. The human costs of revolving deployments of 3, 4 and 5 combat tours, more than seen by any modern combat troops, damages the members of our military services as much as more our enemies.

Women in uniform are still more likely to be assaulted than see combat; suicide rates are way too high. The nation and the military—and certainly the families—would welcome a decline in these statistics!

What are we getting or giving up in the debate over the strength and readiness of our national defense? An example is the Arleigh Burke destroyer class, ships with the best eyes and coordination on the seas.

The first Arleigh Burke Class Aegis destroyers were commissioned in 1991. Contracts for the destroyers were split between the Northrop Grumman Ship Systems (formerly Litton Ingalls Shipbuilding; 28 ships) in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and the General Dynamics subsidiary, Bath Iron Works (34 ships), in Maine. Since 1997, 33 destroyers have been commissioned and are in active service.  The Arleigh Burke class is the first US Navy class to be fitted out with anti-NBC (nuclear, biological, and chemical) warfare protection.

The Ingalls Mississippi shipyard pioneered the modular techniques used to build Aegis destroyers in the 1970s.  Advanced three dimensional computer-aided design (CAD) is linked to computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), in turn, networked with minicomputers throughout the shipyard. Digital data  directs manufacturing equipment to cut steel plates, bend pipe, and lay out sheetmetal, reducing the steps needed to convert drawings into ship components, and improving precision, efficiency and productivity.

During construction, hundreds of subassemblies are built and outfitted. These are joined to other subassemblies to form the ship’s hull. Assembly also integrates electrical panels, propulsion equipment, and generators. The ship’s superstructure (the deckhouse) is lifted to top the ship’s midsection early in the assembly,  making it easier to connect electrical and electronics components with precision.

Fewer than 20 ships in the world approach the military capacities of one Arleigh Burke destroyer. The cost? Around cool, two billion dollars.