Hot on the heels of the $3-billion, 14,000-ton DDG-1000 destroyer, the Navy is considering building a 25,000-ton nuclear cruiser, a.k.a. battleship. Navy Times has the details:
Under pressure from the Navy to develop a new cruiser based on the DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class hull form, and from Congress to incorporate nuclear power [in order to reduce dependence on foreign oil], a group of analysts working on the next big surface combatant may recommend two different ships to form the CG(X) program. … The other new cruiser would be a much larger, 25,000-ton nuclear-powered ship with a more conventional flared bow, optimized for the ballistic missile defense (BMD) mission.
That last point is key, as I explained back in March. The Missile Defense Agency is developing the so-called Kinetic Energy Interceptor to kill ballistic missiles just seconds after they launch. But to do that, the KEI shooter has to be very close to the launch site — i.e., bobbing off the coast — and the KEI itself has to be enormous (four feet wide, 40 feet tall) in order to fit a powerful motor:
At a hush-hush missile defense conference in Washington, D.C., this morning, Lockheed Martin officials, who had bid on KEI but lost to Northrop Grumman, expressed doubt that KEI would ever work due to its size, the absence of an obvious launch platform and the heat problem. But Northrop Grumman has a plan. It’s planning to install special KEI cells at an angle inside the CG(X) cruiser based on the DDG-1000 destroyer. The angle reduces the height requirements for a launching ship. And to resolve the heat situation, the firm is proposing to “cold launch” KEI, just like the Navy does for its huge nuclear Trident missiles fired from submarines. That entails a separate system to pneumatically eject the missile before its booster rocket ignites. Of course, cold-launching adds to the complexity and cost of a missile system. And the “slanty” KEI cells will take up a lot of space in the CG(X), reducing carriage of other weapons. And CG(X) itself is a mostly theoretical warship based on a $3-billion destroyer that is taking a lot of criticism.
Now it appears the Navy considers even CG(X) too small for the KEI role and wants the nuclear battleship instead. Aside from the cost and the likelihood that KEI will never actually work in the real world, why is this fixation on big ships like the DDG-1000 (seen being tested at right), CG(X) and CGN(X) a problem? Martin Libicki explains in a paper published by the Institute for National Strategic Studies:
For military operations, efficient area-wide coverage becomes important. A hundred pairs of eyes can always find something in the field most easily if they are spread around rather than bunched up. Dispersion is also good for localizing an object. A hundred low-power noses can detect, and more important, track a scent better than a single high-power nose stuck in one place. …
Of greater military relevance is that one large item is easier to find than are each of a hundred smaller ones. Small size and large numbers work with each other in this case. First, the one large item usually has a greater signature than each of the smaller ones. Second, far more effort is needed to track, hit, and ascertain the destruction of a hundred small ones.