Two of America’s largest domestic shipbuilding companies – General Dynamics and HII – will construct nine new flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers (DDG 51s) for the US Navy.

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer is a multi-mission, guided missile warship that conduct anti-air warfare with Aegis combat system and surface-to-air missiles; tactical land strikes with its Tomahawk missiles; and anti-submarine warfare with Harpoon missiles.

DDG 51s have four variants, referred to a ‘flights’, as the latest flight provides technological advancements. After flights I, IIA and IIB, the latest third flight include destroyers developed from the USS Jack H. Lucas (DDG 125) onward.

On the 1 August 2023, the US Department of Defense (DoD) awarded one contract to General Dynamics Bath Iron Works (BIW) to provide three destroyers, one each in FY2023, 2024 and 2026.

There are currently six destroyers in production at BIW: John Basilone (DDG 122), Harvey C. Barnum Jr. (DDG 124) and Patrick Gallagher (DDG 127), as well as the Flight III ships Louis H. Wilson Jr. (DDG 126), William Charette (DDG 130) and Quentin Walsh (DDG 132).

The DoD gave the other to HII for the supply of six vessels – one in 2023, one in 2024, two in 2025, one in 2026 and another in 2027.

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Both contracts include options for engineering change proposals, design budgeting requirements, and post-delivery availabilities on the awarded firm multi-year ships.

The DoD has not specified the cost value of the contracts. However, according to Naval Technology, the US Navy awarded two contracts, with a combined value of $9.29bn, to HII and BIW for the construction of ten Flight III DDG 51 destroyers in September 2018.

USS Jack H. Lucas (DDG 125), the first flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyer inducted in June 2023. Credit: US Navy.

Flight III DDG 51 fleet

“Flight III destroyers have significant increased capability, and our skilled shipbuilders are committed to producing ships that meet the quality standards that our Navy Sailors deserve,” the President of BIW,  Chuck Krugh, stated.

According to the US Navy, it is currently undergoing a DDG modernisation programme to provide a comprehensive mid-life upgrade that will ensure the DDG 51 class possesses the latest long-range fires and terminal defense capabilities.

The navy is also introducing these modernisation changes to new construction ships to increase the baseline capabilities of the newest ships in the class, and to provide commonality between new construction ships and modernised in-service ships.

The goal of the DDG modernisation effort is to increase warfighting capabilities and drive commonality, which enable these ships to remain relevant, to their service life, against current and future threats.      

Improvements over the previous flights include hangars for two helicopters, new combat system software, an enlarged flight deck, the Evolved SeaSparrow missile, the Kingfisher mine detection sonar, the Kollmorgen optronic sight, and an upgrade of the Aegis radar system.

Alongside the two contracts awarded to BIW and HII, the DoD also issued a separate contract to Raytheon for $124.2m. The American prime will add scope to its Tomahawk production with an additional 42 maritime strike seeker suites in support of the low-rate Tomahawk missile production for the US Navy.

The DDG 51s are armed with 56 Raytheon Tomahawk cruise missiles, with a combination of land-attack missiles with a Tercom-aided navigation system, and anti-ship missiles with inertial guidance. The Standard SM-2MR block 4 surface-to-air missiles with command/inertial guidance remain at the centre of the Aegis system.