Celebrating 25 Years of the Arleigh Burke-Class Destroyers

By Captain Mark Vandroff, DDG 51 Major Program Manager, PEO Ships

Twenty-five years ago Roberta “Bobbie” Burke stood in front of a podium in Norfolk, Va., and spoke the traditional words “man our ship and bring her to life!” I dutifully came to attention, and with about 300 of my shipmates, ran aboard the USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) to man her rails. The ship’s namesake, Adm. (ret) Arleigh Burke, sat in a chair on the platform near where his wife spoke and watched the ship named in his honor come to life. As the crew manned the rails, horns blared, engines started, gun mounts moved, and radars rotated. As a junior officer on the crew of a new first of class destroyer, the end of the commissioning ceremony brought all the usual tasks of keeping a warship clean, safe and ready for operations. There was neither time nor opportunity to ask Adm. Burke what he was thinking about at that special moment. Admiral Burke was a true visionary, however, I doubt even he could have foreseen what was started on that day 25 years ago.

Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney delivers the keynote address during the commissioning ceremony for the guided missile destroyer USS ARLEIGH BURKE (DDG-51), one of the few ships named after a living person.

Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney delivers the keynote address during the commissioning ceremony for the guided missile destroyer USS ARLEIGH BURKE (DDG-51), one of the few ships named after a living person.

25 Years of Improvement

When I think about that moment now, I am struck by how much has happened in 25 years. While the Navy had originally planned for only 29 ships, the plan quickly adapted to 62 ships in commission. To put it simply, more ships of this class ensured that the Navy could better protect and defend our nation. Today, the same holds true and another 10 ships are in construction, with two of the 10 set to go to sea later this summer.

The building of Arleigh Burke-class ships has led to improvements along many fronts. After building the first 21 ships, an organic signals intelligence capability was added. Eight ships after that, the hull was slightly lengthened and the aft third redesigned to add aviation facilities capable of housing and maintaining two MH-60 helicopters. Advances in hull form and propeller design implemented during construction of these ships have saved millions of gallons of fuel. Machinery controls and power generation has improved to become more reliable with less maintenance.

In addition to these improvements, the advancement of the ships’ combat system has added new mission areas and enhanced performance far beyond the original DDG 51 design by incorporating Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) equipment and Open Architecture (OA) information systems. Then, in 2009, the Navy was looking for a platform to field the new Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR), and the Arleigh Burke-class was chosen as the best option. The production line was restarted with Congress appropriating the 63rd ship of the class in 2010, and additional ships every year since then. Today, a growing number of Arleigh Burke-class ships possess the ability to simultaneously engage ballistic missiles traveling in outer space while providing area defense against airplanes and cruise missiles.

NORFOLK (July 31, 2012) The guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) returns home from deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tommy Lamkin/Released)

NORFOLK (July 31, 2012) The guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG 51) returns home from deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tommy Lamkin/Released)

As if capability improvements weren’t enough in 25 years, the Arleigh Burke-class program has also improved the method in which the Navy acquires and maintains ships and their systems. The program has executed two Multi-Year Procurements (MYP); with a third in execution and a fourth in planning. Why is that important? These long term contracts have saved the Navy billions of dollars, enabling the Navy to afford additional ships in the class. The program was also the first to bring a Profit-Related-to-Offer (PRO) contracting strategy to shipbuilding contracts. The PRO allowed for competitive pricing even when allocating ships between two building yards. The computer programs for the AEGIS Weapon System (AWS) has also evolved into a Common Source Library (CSL), which allows for a “code once, use many” model that has avoided costs both in the AEGIS program and other Navy programs. Taken as a group, today’s Arleigh Burke-class ships are procured with much greater economic efficiency and deliver far greater warfighting value than the Arleigh Burke I help commission 25 years ago.

In the past 25 years America and her Navy have been involved in a wide range of crisis and conflict around the globe. From launching land-attack cruise missiles, to delivering humanitarian aid, to preventing the flow of illicit arms and suppressing piracy, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have been ever-present, executing missions across the full range of military operations.

Like all American destroyers before her, ships of the Arleigh Burke-class are named for heroes. One of the great unheralded advantages of building destroyers is it allows the Navy and the nation to honor the very best in courage and leadership. Ships of the class honor the innovative spirit of Grace Hopper, the multi-generational legacy of service of the Mustin family, the calm perseverance of Raymond Spruance, the resilience during captivity of William P. Lawrence, and the battlefield bravery of Michael Murphy. The names of these ships remind us of what is best in our Navy and nation.

What’s Next for the Class?

In a few months Laura Stavridis will stand in front of a podium and speak the same traditional words to the crew of that 63rd ship that Bobbie Burke spoke to me and my shipmates 25 years ago. The USS John Finn (DDG 113) will then begin to write the next chapter in the amazing story that is the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Arleigh Burke on the bridge of a ship at sea, circa 1955-1957.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Arleigh Burke on the bridge of a ship at sea, circa 1955-1957.

The Fiscal Year 2017 President’s Budget requests funding for two additional Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Both ships will incorporate Integrated Air and Missile Defense and provide additional BMD capacity known as Flight III, which incorporates the AMDR. The Navy plans to deliver this much needed capability, essential for future sea-based BMD, to the Fleet in the early FY 2020s.

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