An exclusive Aviation Week Intelligence Network investigation into the U.S. Navy destroyer fleet and its accompanying combat systems strongly suggests the service will have to upend some $121.8 billion worth of plans for their development, effectively solidifying the grip of incumbent contractors on the work at the very time Navy brass say they’re trying to break such monopolies.

Given rising maintenance costs and the current budget environment, it’s unlikely the Navy will be able to afford newly designed DDG-51s, wholesale new changes to their Aegis systems or the proposed Air and Missile Defense Radar.

The Aviation Week Intelligence Network’s (AWIN) five-part “Come About” series details the Navy’s miscues in building its destroyer fleet and developing an accompanying shipboard combat system. It is the result of a yearlong examination that included scores of interviews with Navy and contractor program officials, defense analysts, subject matter experts, Navy and Pentagon leaders, testing officials and a host of others associated directly or indirectly with the programs. As part of the project, AWIN captured, analyzed and vetted millions of computer records to provide a clearer picture of the funding trends and expectations for these programs.

Even a cursory analysis shows the service could save up to $14.3 billion — according to some government estimates of procurement and life cycle costs — if the service bought DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyers in the coming decades instead of newly designed variants of the venerable DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class, although other factors must be taken into account.

Part of the reason for the systems’ potentially high price tag, analysts note, are the starts, stops and sudden shifts in destroyer fleet plans in recent years. Still, such a potential overall cost disparity — revealed for AWIN subscribers in the “Come About” series — is drawing attention and more analysis in some quarters.

Further feeding that need for greater scrutiny are questions surrounding the Navy’s decision in the latter half of the past decade to truncate the Zumwalt fleet to three ships and restart the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke line — concerns that have prompted a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigation that is due to deliver a report in January. The DDG-51 restart is needed, the Navy says, to fulfill the service’s ballistic missile defense (BMD) mission obligations, which envision the destroyers equipped with Lockheed Martin’s venerable Aegis Combat System, ready to take down enemy missiles with Raytheon’s Standard Missile-3 interceptor.

Some analysts speculate that the GAO will recommend that the Navy ditch its current plan to buy more Burkes — including redesigned models in years to come — and build more Zumwalts instead because the DDG-1000s will offer greater growth potential for more weapons and lower life cycle costs, which will likely save the Navy more money in the long run.

What is not speculation, though, is that Navy officials have provided contradictory and often misleading public statements about what destroyers they need and why. Neither Burkes nor Zumwalts were designed specifically for BMD, but the Navy brass has contended the DDG-1000s could not accommodate Standard Missiles — a contention that is untrue, according to Navy documents, analysts and industry sources.

Another indisputable fact is that the current fleet of destroyers and their Aegis Combat Systems needed for missile defense are a maintenance mess. It could cost the price of an entire new destroyer or more just to get the vessels and systems shipshape and an additional untold sum of money to keep the Burkes and their radar systems in good working order through the coming decades.

It is this huge repair bill, plus mounting maintenance costs and the budgetary battles being waged on Capitol Hill, that make top naval analysts think it is unlikely the Navy will be able to afford the newly designed Burkes, wholesale new changes to the ships’ Aegis shields or the proposed Air and Missile Defense Radar, the supposed linchpin for future BMD.

Subscribers to AWIN can find links to the entire Come About series, as well as supporting data tables, graphics and links to pertinent sources, by clicking here.