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Why Russia and China Hate the Flight III Arleigh Burke-Class Destroyer

U.S. Navy
(Dec. 17, 2021) Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stockdale (DDG 106) transits the Indian Ocean during a bilateral training exercise with the Royal Australian Air Force, Dec. 17, 2021. Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group and elements of the Royal Australian Navy and Air Force are conducting a bilateral training exercise to test and refine warfighting capabilities in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tyler R. Fraser)

The U.S. Navy is executing ambitious plans for its upgraded Arleigh Burke-class of guided-missile destroyers. The service branch is excited about the Flight III subvariant, with an improved radar system for the future USS Jack H. Lucas.

This ship is versatile. It can escort aircraft carriers, operate close to shore to address littoral threats, sail in surface-warfare groups, and even act independently in a naval confrontation with adversaries. The Navy wants nine Flight III Arleigh Burke-class ships. The following analysis will give you an idea why these ships are so popular with Navy brass.

Capable and Sophisticated

The Jack H. Lucas was launched in June 2021 and christened in March 2022. In August, the vessel received a new radar system that will give it top-notch sensors useful for all the missions mentioned above.

The Lucas has the AN/SPY-6(V)1 radar mounted on its main superstructure. This radar, built around the advanced Aegis Combat System, can spot and defend against enemy airplanes, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles when integrated with the SM-3 interceptor and SM-6 missile variants. 

The Lucas will be home ported in San Diego for deployment to the Indo-Pacific. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday is excited about its potential. Gilday said at the christening ceremony that the “Jack H. Lucas is not only the most capable and sophisticated surface combatant ever built by man, but it also represents the bridge from the past to the future, as we bring a new radar, the Aegis Baseline 10, and a new electric plant onto an already highly capable platform.”

The Flight IIIs will have 359 sailors on board to handle sophisticated battle systems that include strike capabilities, air defense, and anti-submarine warfare. Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have Tomahawk cruise missiles, two triple tubes for torpedoes, a close-in weapons system, a five-inch Mk 45 gun, and the evolved Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile.

The Arleigh Burke-class vessels have a new all-steel hull form, and they keep the Spruance-class propulsion system. 

The Arleigh-Burke Class Is Built for Dangerous Missions

The Arleigh Burkes will be pivotal in maintaining superiority against shore-based anti-ship missiles such as China’s carrier-killing DF-21D and DF-26D. These missiles have a long range: The DF-26D can fly 2,500 miles to deliver its 4,000-pound payload. The Jack H. Lucas will need its updated missile defense system to counter those carrier killers while it is in escort mode.

Indeed, the Arleigh Burke-class might maintain a more defensive posture, even though it equips cruise missiles and a deck gun. China’s aggressive posture toward Taiwan will keep Arleigh Burke-class crews busy when patrolling the East and South China Seas and the Taiwan Strait. China will likely have at least one carrier battle group sailing at all times in this area of operations.

Since the chief of naval operations is excited about the Burke-class, what is the strategy behind having more destroyers? Is the Navy going after quantity of ships, or quality?

China has the largest navy in the world, with arguably the best shipbuilders. The United States has 296 ships, with 92 cruisers and destroyers that are heavily armed with modern battle systems and sensors. The size of the fleet is a work in progress, as new American ships are ordered and brought into service. 

Arleigh Burke-class

ATLANTIC OCEAN (June 12, 2021) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Ignatius (DDG 117) transits the Atlantic Ocean, June 12, 2021. Paul Ignatius is operating in the Atlantic Ocean in support of U.S. 6th Fleet’s full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied, joint, and interagency, partners, in order to advance U.S. national interests and security and stability in Europe and Africa. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nathan T. Beard) 210612-N-QI061-1430

The Trump administration wanted a 355-ship navy, but this was considered a high-cost goal. It is not clear what the Biden administration has in store for the number of ships planned. 

The Arleigh Burke-class Flight III ships will have important missions in the Indo-Pacific, Baltic, and Black Sea regions as the Navy adjusts to facing dual threats from two revanchist powers. 

Harpoon Anti-Ship Missiles

WATERS NEAR GUAM (Mar. 10, 2016) – Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) conducts a live fire of a harpoon missile during Multi-Sail 2016. Multi Sail is a bilateral training exercise aimed at interoperability between the U.S. and Japanese forces. This exercise builds interoperability and benefits from realistic, shared training, enhancing our ability to work together to confront any contingency. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Eric Coffer/Released)


ARCTIC CIRCLE (Sept. 5, 2017) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79) transits the Arctic Circle Sept. 5, 2017. Oscar Austin is on a routine deployment supporting U.S. national security interests in Europe, and increasing theater security cooperation and forward naval presence in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations.

US Navy

ATLANTIC OCEAN (June 30, 2018) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG 96) fires its Mark 45 five-inch gun during a live-fire exercise. Bainbridge, homeported at Naval Station Norfolk, is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe and Africa. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Theron J. Godbold/Released)180630-N-FP878-566

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.