The U.S. Navy has for decades shown a strong interest in the development of a new generation of surface destroyers, with the failure of the Zumwalt Class destroyer program in the 2000s and the advanced capabilities of China’s new Type 055 Class destroyers, the first of which was launched in 2017, only increasing the urgency for commissioning such ships. A major obstacle in completing such a program has been the cost of fielding a new generation of surface combatants, with the Zumwalts having cost over $7 billion per hull despite their very limited combat capabilities, and the new ship the DDG (X) expected to cost between $3 billion and $3.4 billion each.
The DDG (X) does not use an ambitious stealth design like the Zumwalt, and appears to be an evolution of the current Arleigh Burke Class design which has been in production since the late Cold War years and currently forms almost the entire destroyer fleet. Since concepts for its design were first unveiled, the DDG (X) has been widely criticised as being an imitation of China’s Type 055 due to the strong similarities between the two, with the American ship’s design having first been shown a full seven years after the first ship from the rival Chinese class was laid down in 2014. The DDG (X) is expected to replace the Navy’s Ticonderoga Class cruisers, the large majority of its Arleigh Burke Class destroyers, and likely the three Zumwalt Class destroyers which were laid down before the program was terminated.
Costs for new warships have notably risen sharply since the 1990s as the American shipbuilding industry and broader industrial base have faced a sharp decline, with the only three major programs for post Cold War surface combat ships the Zumwalt Class destroyer and Freedom and Independence Classes of Littoral Combat Ship all considered near complete failures. With prior plans for a more complex stealthier design under the CG (X) program having notably been cancelled following the failure of the Zumwalt program, the DDG (X)’s much more conservative design may prove less problematic. An estimated 80 of the ships are expected to enter service beginning in the early 2030s, by which time a range of new technologies including hypersonic missiles and directed energy weapons are set to have been integrated. As the Arleigh Burke’s room for modernisation has become increasingly constrained, the DDG (X) has reportedly been designed with a strong focus on being able to integrate upgrades and anticipated new technologies for decades into the future.
As the Type 055 costs an estimated $1 billion each, compared to $3.4 billion for the DDG (X), the viability of the American program to counter China’s navy remains questionable. Lower cost effectiveness for major weapons programs has become a particularly serious issue since China overtook the United States in 2020 in spending on arms acquisitions. Current economic trends indicate that the difference in budgets for acquisitions is expected to be far larger by the 2030s when the DDG (X) begins to enter service.