Ј500m US destroyer takes Stealth technology to sea
FROM BEN MACINTYRE IN WASHINGTON
THE US Navy will disclose plans this week for the “Stealth bomber of the seas”, a new generation of battleship designed to fire missiles deep into enemy territory while moving furtively through the world’s oceans powered by eco-friendly electricity.
The $750 million (Ј500 million) DD-21 Destroyer would carry more firepower, more quietly, than any other warship, but the cost of the new weapon may scupper it even before it is launched.
The first battleship is scheduled to set sail in 2010. The defence supplier General Dynamics will reveal public diagrams of the DD-21 later this week. “It’s like going from sail to steam,” former RearAdmiral Kendall Pease, vice-president of General Dynamics, told The New York Times.
Like the B2 Stealth bomber aircraft, the vessel’s surfaces are sloped to deflect radar signals. The bow slopes backwards to leave a less detectable wake. The ship’s generator will be quieter, with less impact on the environment, than conventional turbines.
Defenders of the DD-21 say that it will be more powerful and harder to trace than existing destroyers and cheaper to run since it requires a crew of 95. At present destroyers have crews of up to 400.
The ship would carry at least 120 cruise missiles, which could be fired hundreds of miles inland, as well as two 33ft guns with 1,500 shells accurate from a distance of more than 100 miles.
The research and development budget this year is $600 million, with plans for the first keel to be laid in 2005. The US Navy wants to build 32 of the ships, but the project is facing criticism.
President-elect George W. Bush is a supporter of innovative military technology, but he has called only for a $4.5 billion annual increase in defence spending over the next decade.
The DD-21 project is one of the most vulnerable to spending cuts. Some critics say that the United States does not face a serious rival at sea and should spend the money on diplomacy or revitalising its existing fleet.
Richard Danzig, the Secretary of the Navy and a supporter of the DD-21, said that the design reflects the changing face of naval warfare, in which ship-to-shore firepower will be more important. “In the wake of the end of the Cold War, we recognised that big naval battles on the open sea are not likely,” Mr Danzig, who steps down this month, said.
Critics counter that the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen last October demonstrated that the Navy is at risk from terrorism and should build lighter, more versatile ships than the new destroyer.
The DD-21 would require less maintenance than existing destroyers. It is expected to reduce fuel costs by 40 per cent even when sailing at full speed. Mr Danzig said that each vessel would save $30 million a year in operating costs.
General Dynamics has lost no time in presenting its plans to the new Administration. Ingalls Shipbuilding, owned by Litton Industries, is also working on the project, and the two shipbuilders are leading rival consortiums to design the DD-21. Existing navy plans call for a contract on the destroyer to be signed by this spring.