The U.S. Navy put as many as 10 Arleigh Burke DDG 51 Flight III Destroyers on contract to help catapult the service into a new dimension of maritime attack capability, as the greatly upgraded ships have improved weapons, better computing, and a much longer-range and far more sensitive radar system.
Arleigh Burke Flight III on the Seas
The U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke Flight III destroyers, in development now for many years, are engineered to ensure the U.S. Navy fleet stays in front of the competition as the world threat equation evolves and China continues to quickly build a new fleet of high-tech Type 055 semi-stealthy destroyers.
While the Navy is currently experimenting with concepts for its next-generation DDG X destroyer, the Flight III destroyers are intended to sail for decades into the future, given the sophistication of the weapons and technology now being built into the ships.
In fact, early conceptual thinking regarding the new DDG X is that its technological systems, weapons, and radar will likely be based upon those now integrating into the Flight III, a plan that offers a window into Navy thinking and more sophisticated Flight III technologies.
The cornerstone or foundation of the Flight III upgrade is the addition of a paradigm-changing AN/SPY-6 (V)1 Air and Missile Defense Radar system. This radar is reported by Navy and Raytheon developers to be 30 times more sensitive than its predecessor and helps ship commanders detect enemy objects and threats half the size and twice the distance as previous radars can. This is quite a leap forward, given that the ranges of enemy weapons and sensors, coupled with multi-domain connectivity and networking, have dramatically increased the threat equation for surface warships.
The SPY-6 family moves beyond existing AN/SPY-1 ship-integrated radar systems and, according to an interesting article in Microwave Journal ”… handles 30 times more targets and has 30-times greater sensitivity than the SPY-1D(V).” (“Radar and Phased Array Breakthroughs,” Eli Booker)
Raytheon’s SPY-6 radar transmitter uses a material known as military-grade Gallium Nitride (GaN), a substance explained by Raytheon developers as up to 1,000 times more efficient than the existing Gallium Arsenide used today.
When it comes to application, the SPY-6 radar systems streamline otherwise disparate fire-control and detection technologies; the SPY-6 can cue short-range, closer-in interceptors as well as longer-range ballistic missile interceptors such as an SM-3. This shortens the sensor-to-shooter time and offers war commanders a longer window with which to make decisions about which countermeasure is needed. This integration is precisely the kind of defense needed to counter a multi-pronged, coordinated enemy attack potentially combining ballistic missiles with cruise missiles, and drone attacks.
With SPY-1, as it’s called, Commanders can see threats from much safer standoff distances and operate with a larger time window with which to respond and decide upon a defensive measure or counterattack. The AN/SPY-6 radar is also integrated into the Navy’s Aegis Combat System, an integrated suite of technologies combining Air-and-Cruise Missile Defense with Ballistic Missile Defense, onboard computing, and fire control systems. With more precise threat data arriving at a faster pace from greater distances with greater fidelity, Aegis can incorporate and analyze new streams of precise threat track data with sufficient time to develop a counterattack plan and determine fire-control coordinates.
The DDG 51 Arleigh Burke Flight III upgrade is centered on the AN/SPY-6(V)1 Air and Missile Defense Radar. It incorporates upgrades to the electrical power and cooling capacity plus additional associated changes to provide greatly enhanced warfighting capability to the fleet. Flight III is the latest Flight upgrade in the more than 30-year history of the class, building on the proud legacy of Flight I, II, and IIA ships before it.
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.