Galrahn of Information Dissemination has a great Strategy-and-Concept-of-Operations proposal to meet our policy objectives in the littoral zone (0 to 25 nm away from the coastline). In it, he built upon CDR Hendrix's Influence Squadron idea to engage the human terrain of the littoral zone. The littoral zone is full of fishing boats, pirates, and shipping. Galrahn's litoral strike squadrons deliver sailors and Marines to interact with the population at sea, whereas the current Navy policy is to stay away from all boat traffic.
To carry the human payload into contact with the population, Galrahn depends on the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and a notional class of patrol boats. An LCS will act as the command element for its subordinate patrol boats, as well as providing aviation support of helicopters and UAVs. The patrol boats will board and inspect suspect vessels, render assistance as necessary, and gather human intelligence.
The proposal is well thought out and implementable, but the LCS is its weak point. Many people want to kill the LCS to build more DDG-51s or a better armed frigate. What if Congress cut off the LCS project in a few years? What is our shipbuilding Plan B to keep up presence and numbers? As G pointed out in his USNI piece, the US Navy will hit a Warship Gap by the year of 2025 if the US Navy does not come up with a plan to fix shipbuilding.
There are several options for our Shipbuilding Plan B. One possibility is build our 21st Century Spruance Class Destroyer. The Spruance Class was a highly successful ship type because the Navy built it in enough numbers to meet its presence needs. It also had plenty of room inside for future upgrades and technology experiments. By sticking with a minimal weapon system suite, the Navy kept the price tag affordable. Later on, the Navy used the Spruance hull to build the world-famous AEGIS Cruisers.
It turns out that we have a reverse-Spruance class in service right now: the Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers (DDG-51). At $1.5 billion per ship, the Burke is one of the most expensive warship in the world. Maybe we should start planning for a reverse-Spruance. More than 40% of the Burke price tag comes from the electronics and weapons. If we strip off the radars and don't install the Mk 41, we can buy a DD-51 for about $700 million.
Such a Spruanced-Burke will keep the shipyards in business. Its manufacturing cost and process is well known, so we minimize budget and production surprises. After we take out the weapons, we regain all that upgrade room we've lost over the past 20 years. We will have room to park those LCS modules and launch/recover UxVs. Or more helicopters.
We can also update the hull with new technology. For example, we can incorporate LCS's crew automation technology to drive down DD-51's crew requirement. We can incorporate some electric drive systems to increase the power reserve available for later upgrades. (Without the SPY-1, there will be plenty of power). If in the future, we face a higher end threat, we can always upgrade our DD-51 with more missiles and combat systems.
The specific configuration of DD-51 (hangar, sonar tail, boat ramp, etc) will depend on a more detailed requirement analysis and cost-tradeoff. We can even have multiple variants of DD-51. But this will work well as a Plan B. In effect, an Frigate in a Destroyer's body.