U.S. Navy destroyers will now be better equipped to hunt and destroy enemy submarines due to a series of hardware and software upgrades to its Arleigh Burke-class DDG-51 destroyers.
The focus of the effort, which included adding a virtual upgrade to the USS William P. Lawrence, is not only upon bringing new war capacities to the ship but also aimed at timing, meaning the initiative aimed at massively reducing the amount of time needed to perform a ship upgrade. The concept is to avoid cumbersome and potentially bureaucratic modernization procedures while still ensuring high quality. The main thrust of the success, according to an interesting report from Naval Sea Systems Command, is to expedite an anti-submarine warfare improvement process through virtual, or software-driven upgrades, therefore removing the need for more lengthy hardware modifications.
“This will allow the Navy to upgrade ships with the latest, greatest software more frequently. This proof-of-concept demonstration reduces upgrade costs significantly, removing the requirement for hull cuts, minimizing hardware change-outs, and reducing the time to modernize these combat systems from six to nine months of shipyard times to a matter of weeks,” Program Manager and Navy Capt. Jill Cesari, said in a Navy report.
A virtualized upgrade bringing significant weapons and combat system performance enhancements is something likely to be increasing throughout the broader Naval ship modernization process, given the growing extent to which combat operations are computer reliant. Given this context, key factors such as weapons range, targeting accuracy or even explosive effects can be changed, tailored, improved and modernized through virtually-driven software upgrades.
The Navy’s SM-6 missile, for example, is a destroyer-fired interceptor missile which has been improved through key software upgrades. Newer variants of the weapon are able to shift-course more fully “in-flight” to adjust to moving targets in real time by virtue of a “dual mode” seeker. The dual-mode seeker, made possible through software upgrades, enable the missile itself to send a forward radar “ping” without needing to rely upon a ship-based illuminator for guidance. The missile is fundamentally the same, yet its combat functionality has been fully revamped by virtue of virtual upgrades. Similar things are true of the Tomahawk missile, as a newer maritime variant was made possible in part through software upgrades enabling improved radio throughput and data link connectivity, innovations which introduced a first-of-its-kind technical capability enabling the missile to adjust course in flight to destroy moving targets at sea. In yet another instance, the Navy’s SM-3IIA missile variant is not only larger and more effective against bigger targets but is also improved through newer software applications.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.