U.S. Navy scuttles air, missile defense radar testing at Zumwalt-class facility
Even on an island of unique buildings anchoring the premiere U.S. Navy maritime testing grounds for the service's most sophisticated air and ballistic missile defense radar systems, the building that those here call the “Taj Mahal” stands apart, gleaming eggshell white near the ocean's edge.
The building features a full-scale aft-face replica of theZumwalt-class destroyer deckhouse, complete with operating radar arrays. The six-story, 46,000-sq.-ft. “Taj” was designed to berth 45 full-time engineers and 60 visitors, but fewer than a handful of people now occupy it.
The Navy considers the Zumwalt dual-band radar (DBR) suite development and demonstration to be a stepping-stone to its proposed Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR), the cornerstone of a system to enable future ships to detect and track ballistic missiles.
Budget pressures and changing requirements forced the Navy to dramatically scale back the destroyer program, a two-decade-long odyssey to help usher in futuristic technologies. The changes have ended most trials and training at the test center.
The Navy says the building is a “$19 million facility,” but its radar-suite costs alone would dwarf that number, according to defense analysts. A review of contracts indicates the volume search radar (VSR) would cost about $100 million. And the entire VSR system planned for the Zumwalt, which the facility mirrors, costs $300 million, according to government and defense analyst estimates.
The Naval Sea Systems Command (Navsea) program office acknowledges the building was funded through the DDG-1000 Research, Development, Test & Evaluation (RDT&E) account, and recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) estimates put that total effort above $9.3 billion. Industry and former government officials familiar with the testing facility here say more than $1 billion was spent to build, outfit and operate the center through its first year.
In fiscal 2007-09, when a good chunk of the building site preparation and construction was done, the Navy spent about $1.6 billion on Zumwalt-related contracts, according to an analysis of contract data provided by the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.
Navy officials say the building is worth the cost to guarantee a successful delivery of the Zumwalt, formerly known as the DD(X). They say they hope to use the building to test radar for the Ford-class aircraft carriers, which are getting the DBR suite planned for the Zumwalts.
But the CRS, U.S.and Pentagon's director of operational testing and evaluation have voiced concerns about the potential impact of the testing hiatus here on the carriers' DBR.
Larry McMurry, director of the island testing center, says, “we are the equivalent of a ship that's been at sea for 24 years.” Thebuilding test mast, says a Navsea email, has been repainted for corrosion periodically over the years, with “structural steel repairs in various places . . . underway.”
McMurry says that “the software developers and certification people are so pressed for test time that trying to do maintenance is quite a challenge.”
The shiny, relatively new and nearly empty “Taj” overlooks the Virginia Capes with an oblique face scanning the sea from a pyramid-shaped side fitted with radars and apertures for other Zumwalt-centric sensors. The mast face is crafted from the same expensive composites as the Zumwalt deckhouse. Inside, radar cables spider their way to some of the most advanced computer systems available.
Historically, the Navy has paid for such features with military construction funds. But the Navy used RDT&E money on the DDG-1000 facility to speed its building, says Capt. James Downey, DDG-1000 program manager, adding that it is not an uncommon funding method for such projects in the program's early development phases.
Such streamlining can have ramifications, though. The Zumwalt testing building appears to lack information security systems required for other similar military installations—possibly in part because its unique construction method kept it from being recognized as a proper military testing structure on the network, says Susan Hess, the former chief information officer for the Wallops Navy testing installation.
As a result, tests there subjected the entire Wallops facility—as well as, which owns the land and has its own test facilities there—to potential computer breaches during classified testing, she argues. “We ran Jiamdo [Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization] without the appropriate security,” she says.
Navsea insists Hess's assertions “have no basis in fact. She was here for three months. In all cases, security was (and continues to be) rigorously enforced.”
Hess provided documentation to back up the security concerns, but Navsea says, “the DDG 1000 facility was designed, built and operated to meet the appropriate levels of security.”
Navsea asserts that “the functional and security aspects of each [Jiamdo] site were verified in place and ready by the national test manager and on-site test coordinator prior to issuing approval to participate in the event.”
The more obvious result of the costly replanning came when the Navy truncated the DDG-1000 vessel buy to three. The service had initially planned to buy more than 30 new-class destroyers.
Spreading the RDT&E funds across fewer ships caused the per-ship cost to rise considerably, putting the Zumwalt program into a so-called Nunn-McCurdy cost and schedule breach.
While the per-vessel sticker price for the ships is a bit more than $3 billion, Downey says, the total program cost is about $20 billion, cranking up the per-ship total cost to nearly $7 billion.
To accommodate the rising bill and fleet changes, the Navy cut the proposed radar suite in half and decided to deploy the ship only on the West Coast, although that deployment decision may be under review.
Downey says the new program schedule means the Navy is planning sea tests to check X-band radar tweaks on the remaining radar equipment for the Zumwalt to regain some radar capability.
The Wallop's DDG-1000 building has completed its planned Zumwalt missions, Downey says. And Navy officials say the building helped demonstrate DBR and Littoral Combat Ship modular operational concepts.
In March, the DDG-1000 program decided to move some of the building's testing equipment to afacility to develop software for carriers. A battery of IBM Regatta supercomputers stands silently inside the building, unused.
Only three people now have their offices in the Zumwalt “Taj,” poised for new tasks for the destroyer on the beach.