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Arsenal Ship

Arsenal ship was a joint Navy / DARPA program to acquire a moderate cost, high firepower demonstrator ship with low manning as soon as possible. The Arsenal Ship was planned to restore the naval support of the land battle, the modern day equivalent of the firepower that battleships provided during World War II and in Korea. The plan was to produce the demonstrator ship for initial operational capability (IOC) by the year 2000. Based on successful demonstration, a total force of four to six Arsenal ships would be funded. The goal was to develop an Arsenal Ship (AS) functional design by the end of FY97. This timeline from concept design (FY96) through fabrication (FY00) represented half the development time of previous naval vessels of this complexity. The Arsenal Ship would contains four times the VLS cells found on a CG-52 class ship, have a fixed unit sailaway price of $450 million, and a life-cycle cost 50% less than that of a naval combatant.

But in early 1997 the House National Security Committee concluded that the Arsenal Ship and the SC-21 were two separate major warship development programs, and that the cost of carrying out two such programs would be unaffordable, while the requirement for both had been validated by the Secretary of Defense. On 24 October 1997 the House-Senate conference committee on the FY1998 Defense Authorization Bill on refused additional funding for the Arsenal Ship. With only $35 million appropriated, the Navy needed an additional $115 million to sustain the program. That day the Secretary of the Navy announced that the program would not be pursued. Some of the design work has been incorporated into the SC-21 and DD-21 program. On 01 December 1997 the National Defense Panel report criticized the cancellation of the Arsenal Ship, noting that the ship could have reduced the need for aircraft carriers.

The Arsenal Ship was developed initially as a demonstration program to provide a large increase in the amount of ordnance available to ground- and sea-based forces in a conflict, particularly during the early days. The Navy envisioned that the ship would have a large capacity of different missiles, including Tomahawk and Standard, and space for future extended range gun systems. The ship could also have a sea-based version of the Army Tactical Missile System. This ship could greatly increase capabilities in littoral operations to conduct long-range strike missions, provide fire support for ground forces, defend against theater ballistic missiles, and maintain air superiority.

The Arsenal Ship has the potential to provide substantial fire support to a variety of missions in regional conflicts without the logistics burden of transporting both delivery systems and ammunition to the shore and forward areas. The Arsenal Ship is expected to carry a large number of VLS cells but without the sophisticated command and control and radar equipment found on Aegis-equipped ships.

The ships would be theater assets that will operate under the authority of the joint Commanders-In-Chief (CINCs) and receive their targeting along with command and decision information from other assets. This ship will rely on other military assets, including surface combatants, to provide the targeting information and connectivity necessary to launch its weapons. The Arsenal Ship would server as the magazine for a distributed sensor network. A unique aspect to the Arsenal Ship is that all the command and decision functions would be made off board.

Thus, the Arsenal Ship will not be fitted with long range surveillance or fire control sensors, but will be remotely controlled via robust data links. The data links will be secure, redundant and anti-jam in order to provide high reliability in the connectivity of the Arsenal Ships in high jamming operational scenarios. The overall program is an attempt to leverage the significant joint investment in Link 16 and CEC. Early in arsenal ship's life this control will be exercised through an Aegis platform. As the theater connectivity matures, the Arsenal Ship would accommodate a more robust set of controls from a wide variety of sources that would include JSTARS aircraft, AWACS or an E-2 with Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) and, a soldier or a Marine on the ground or a command post ashore. This concept allows for remote missile selection, on-board missile initialization and remote launch orders, and provides remote "missile away" messages to the control platform.

The ship would have the equivalent ordnance—about 500 vertically launched weapons from a wide variety of the military’s inventory—of about four or five Aegis cruisers and destroyers. Employing the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) “remote magazine” launch concept, the arsenal ship would provide additional magazine capacity for Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (TBMD) and Air Supremacy missiles.

The Navy envisioned the ship to have a small crew (possibly less than 50 members) and be highly survivable. Associated with minimizing ship costs and manning is the planned reliance on passive survivability, so that it would be very difficult for the Arsenal Ship to be hit by modern weapons. This may be achieved by a combination of reducing the signatures of the ship and the tactical use of countermeasures. If the ship is hit by a missile or a torpedo, the design would insure that the magazines are not violated. Finally, the hull would be sized and designed such that, even if the ship encounters a large torpedo or mine, the ship won't sink.

The Navy planned to maintain the Arsenal Ship forward deployed in major overseas regions for extended periods by rotating the ship’s crew and returning the ship only for major maintenance and overhauls. This plan would allow the Navy to use fewer Arsenal Ships to maintain overseas presence than if the ships were deployed routinely from the United States and permit their early availability in a conflict. Additionally, if the Arsenal Ship concept proves successful and within its cost projections (around $500 million for construction of each ship), DOD and the Navy may be able to retire or forego purchases of some assets, such as aircraft carriers, surface combatants, ground-based launchers, or combat aircraft.

The Arsenal Ship Program's acquisition approach represented a major departure from the way Navy ships have been acquired in the past. The program turned the systems development process over to industry at its earliest stage and challenges industry to develop and design the optimum mix of performance capabilities which can be accommodated within production and life-cycle affordability constraints. In an effort to optimize streamlined technical and business approaches, the program used DARPA's Section 845 authority to conduct prototype development and acquisition experiments outside normal constraints of the Federal Acquisition Regulations.

Experience during the Arsenal Ship Project showed that to achieve a design balanced between cost and performance, a significant amount of interchange was required among subject experts, analysts, and the technical personnel developing the system and functional designs. Additionally, subject experts from outside of the team were used to assure critical performance requirements were understood and satisfied. However, because of the limitations on access applied during the Arsenal Ship Project, achieving the design balance became quite difficult.

In July 1996, DARPA awarded each of five industry teams $1 million Phase I agreements under full and open competition. Since that time, the five teams performed various trade-off studies and developed their initial Arsenal Ship design concepts based upon the governmentŐs Ship Capabilities Document and the Concept of Operations. The Phase I Arsenal Ship Concept Designs, in conjunction with the three successful offeror's Phase II proposals, formed the basis for the Phase II selection and were deemed as providing the best value to the government.

In early 1996 the program was redesignated the Maritime Fire Support Demonstrator (MFSD). The new effort broadened the scope to insert technologies into the demonstrator in preparation for risk reduction for SC-21. The MFSD was to be an at-sea technology testbed for the SC-21, the next-generation CVX aircraft carrier, and other future ships.

In Phase II, which lasted one year, three industry teams continued to develop their concept designs into functional designs consisting of an integrated engineering and cost baseline for the Arsenal Ship Program. On 10 January 1997 DARPA selected three industry teams for Phase II of the Arsenal Ship Program. The three selected industry teams were each awarded $15 million modifications to their existing Phase I Arsenal Ship agreements. The three Phase II industry teams were:

After Phase II, DARPA planned to select one industry team to enter into Phase III, with the Navy to award an MFSD design and construction contract to one of the three Arsenal Ship teams in January 1998. During that phase, the industry team chosen would complete its detail design and construct an Arsenal Ship Demonstrator, as well as provide an irrevocable offer to construct five additional Arsenal Ships and convert the Arsenal Ship Demonstrator into a fully operational asset in the production phase (Phase V). Phase IV consists of performance testing and a fleet evaluation. The value of the research and development portion (Phases I-IV) of the program was approximately $520 million.

Specific objectives to be demonstrated included the ability to perform the operational mission for 90 days; architecture, communications, and datalink functions capable of satisfying the AS concept of operations; and the capability for remote launch of strike, area air warfare, and fire support weapons. The planned test program will include a salvo launch of up to three Tomahawk missiles in 3 minutes; a single SM2 launch using the AS as a remote magazine for a cooperative engagement capability ship, a single Tomahawk launch using the AS as a remote magazine for air-directed and shore-based targeting, and a single weapon launch from a VLS cell in support of a naval surface fire control mission digital call for fire.

Programmed DTO Funding ($ millions)
Total S&T15.


Armament 500-cell Vertical Launch System (VLS)
Tomahawk Land-Attack Missiles (TLAMs)
Army Tactical Missile System
Crew ~~ 50; designed to be highly automated
Design Low radar signature ("stealthy")
double hull
possible length 500-800 feet
Estimated NumberSix vessels
Cost $500-800 Million each
missiles will cost ~~$500 million

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Maintained by Robert Sherman
Originally created by John Pike
Updated Wednesday, February 10, 1999 4:13:15 PM