U.S. Navy scuttles air, missile defense radar testing at
Aviation Week & Space
Technology/June 13, 2011
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
The building features a full-scale aftface replica of the DDG-1000
Zumwaltclass destroyer deckhouse, complete with operating radar arrays.
The sixstory, 46,000-sq.-ft. “Taj” was designed to berth 45 full-time
engineers and 60 visitors, but fewer than a handful of people now
The Navy considers the Zumwalt dual- band radar (DBR) suite development
and demonstration to be a steppingstone 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
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.
quickly to develop cutting-edge
radar for what was once the Navy’s highest-profile
ship, the DDG-1000 building sits mostly empty
overlooking the Atlantic.
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
But the CRS, U.S. Government Accountability Office and Pentagon’s
director of operational testing and evaluation have voiced concerns
about the potential impact of the testing hiatus here on the carriers’
Larry McMurry, director of the island testing center, says, “we are the
equivalent of a ship that’s been at sea for 24 years.” The Aegis
building 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
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
As a result, tests there subjected the entire Wallops facility—as well
as NASA, 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
months. In all cases, security was (and continues to be) rigorously
Hess provided documentation to back up the security concerns, but
“the DDG 1000 facility was designed, built and operated to meet the
levels of security.”
Navsea asserts that “the functional and security aspects of each
were verified in place and ready by the national test manager and
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-Mc- Curdy 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 pership 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
In March, the DDG-1000 program decided to move some of the
building’s testing equipment to a Raytheon facility 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.