Rear Adm. Ron Boxall, the U.S. Navy's head of surface warfare, talks about the importance of keeping pace with technological innovations.

ARLINGTON, Va. — The U.S. Navy’s surface fleet is developing a new class of ship that will replace the cruisers — but it’s not another cruiser.

The Navy’s director of surface warfare, Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall, told a crowd at the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium that his team is building over the next year a capabilities document that will sketch out the next surface combatant, one that integrates new sensors and technologies that will make it relevant into the future.

“People are always asking: ‘What’s the next cruiser?’ ” Boxall said. “What I’m telling you is that it might not be a cruiser. What we are looking for is what do we need our surface ships to do at the big level, what do we need to do at the small level and what do we need to do with unmanned because it is a different Navy out there.

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“And so we have to look at how we optimize our force inside surface warfare and then merge that outside of surface warfare with the other platforms and across all domains.”

The hull Boxall described incorporates the surface force’s emphasis on off-board sensors that radiate and target with active sensors, while using passive sensors on the ship to avoid detection.

The discussion of the next surface combatant was notable because discussion about the cruiser replacement has been conspicuously absent since the Obama administration canceled the Navy’s CG(X) program early in its tenure.

Analysts and observers have criticized the Navy’s seeming lack of a clear plan for the cruisers, some of which have been extended out to 40-year service lives to keep the robust missile defense and anti-air warfare capabilities in the fleet.

The need for a future surface combatant has become even more urgent, as it has become clear that the Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyer has maxed out that hull form, said Thomas Callender, a retired submariner and analyst with The Heritage Foundation, in a recent interview.

“They are way behind the eight ball on this one,” he said. “We’ve done some great things in the Flight III Arleigh Burke [about to enter production], but we’ve kind of reached the technical limits of that design. We can’t continue to pack more power and capability into that design, so we definitely need to move forward with the future surface combatant.”

David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.

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