OK, I admit it, I’ve been a nerd about the US Navy since I was in the 5th grade and wrote a report on them. (Maybe the fortune teller was right, I was supposed to be an oil tanker captain :-). Anyway, was cleaning out the PDFs stuck in iCloud Drive and I found the Raytheon list of ships in the US Navy, so this got me to thinking, I haven’t updated what I know about their inventory in a long time. So here goes…
Carriers: Nimitz Now, Ford coming
These are the gigantic ships of the fleet, the biggest around. There are two types, the newer Gerald R Ford Class (3 ships about to be deployed) and the Nimitz Class (10). Both are nuclear powered and huge, but what is the difference.
The Nimitz Class at 97,000 tons and 5,000 sailors has been around for a long time. Both carry 75-85 aircraft and in the current navy, these are mainly F/A-18E or F Super Hornets and then EA-18G Growlers and an increasing number of F-35 Lighting. For point defense, it has 16-24 RIM 7 Sea Sparrows, 3-4 Phalanx CIWS or RIM-116 Rolling Airframe misses
The Ford Class has undergone lots of teething issues, but the big changes are the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch system which should be more efficient than the steam catapults. The biggest one is reduced manning of 700 fewer sailors by automation. All of these are yet to be proved however.
Guided Missile Cruiser and Destroyers
The current generation of major surface combatants consistently of 2 ½ families which are the Ticonderoga, Arleigh Burke and the Zumwalt.
The Ticonderoga (like the B-52 bomber) is one of those designs that could last close 80 years. It is based on the Spruce-class destroyers and is designed for anti-air protection of carriers. It is old but has 122 vertical launch spots and a SPY-2 radar. These are called Guided Missile Cruisers (CG) at 9600 tons even though the largest DDG (see below) are the same displacement.
The Arleigh Burke (like the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet) is becoming the single class of warship for the Navy. Starting with the Flight I and II then the monster IIA and III. The latest version III displaces as much as the Ticonderoga class.
Finally there are the half classes, the Zumwalt was supposed to be the future of the Navy but is now only three ships compared with the 77 in the Burke class mainly because of cost overruns, so with only three ships, it costs $7B (compared with the $13B Gerald R Ford carriers), because they aren’t building anymore of them. Why? Because it integrated a gun system the AGS, which was cancelled, the SPY-4 radar and the cancellation of the CG(X) replacement for the Ticonderoga also drove costs up. Sad.
Littoral Combat Ship: The New Frigate
In the old days, this might have been called a frigate (and in fact later models will be called just that, but these are lower cost ships in the 3,000 ton range. They were original designed to be modular with a refit, but the only module so far is an anti-surface one. There are a actually two designs, to make sure that both shipyards have business. The main complaint has been that they are smaller and can’t survive a high intensity conflict. It’s about the size of the old Perry class frigate.
It’s main issues have to do with missiles. The original upgrade was cancelled and they are using Hellfires as an interim and they may get the Harpoon.
They also simplified deployment of these two types drastically, so that all the Austral-built ships will be San Diego and the Martin-build will be in Mayport. This makes sense, they are completely different ships. They also returned back to more traditional manning strategies, originally the ships were to be always forward deployed and they would rotate one of three crews into them, now the deployed ships will have the more traditional blue/gold teams and there is be dedicated training ships.
And instead of multiple missions that every crew would train for instead, each division will have four ships dedicated to specific missions: surface warfare, mine counter measures and anti-submarine. In the previous concept, the crews were all multi-mission and the ships themselves could be taken apart and changed.
Attack Submarines (SSN)
The one standing Los Angeles Class SSN were first to be replaced by the Seawolf SSN, but these were too expensive and stopped after three units. The Virginia Class is now what is rolling out. They are split between two shipyards again to keep more construction capability and are being built at 2 a year with a cost of $2B.
The Seawolf is very expensive but has eight 30-inch torpedo tubes compared with 21-inch tubes and can carry 50 torpedos.
The Virginia is an evolution of the Los Angeles class, the big changes are using a propulsor that is quieter (like the British Seawolf), commercial off the shelf networking, photonics mast instead of a periscope, ability to lock in and lock out divers. Like the Los Angeles Class SSN-719 and higher, they have 12 Vertical Launch Tubes and 4 torpedo tubes in Block I.
Block II replaces the sonar with a water filled bow and also two large 87″ tubes to launch cruise missiles instead of the 12 launch tubes.
Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBN and SSGN)
The main stay of the US Navy is are 14 Ohio class submarines with 24 Trident D-5 missiles each (although this year 4 will be deactivated per treaty obligations). Recently four Ohio-class boats have had their ICBMs removed and replaced with conventional guided missiles (SSGN) and can carry special warfare operators.
These boats will reach the end of their service life in the late 2020s, so the US has cooperated with the UK to build a replacement class. The Columbia class, it will actually have 16 missiles but be about the same size. Going to 16 missiles reduces the cost of the class significantly.
The big advances are a long-life nuclear plant. The current Ohio class requires a mid-life refurbishment of the reactor and Columbia does not. The use of electro-drive propulsion, so that the reactor just runs a generator and the propulsors run very quietly with electricity.
The Columbia will share the same missile compartment as the new UK Vanguard class submarines. These things are going to be expensive at $5B per ship.