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The U.S. Navy’s Zumwalt-class Destroyer: Hype or Historic?

Zumwalt-class
ATLANTIC OCEAN (April 21, 2016) The future guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) transits the Atlantic Ocean during acceptance trials April 21, 2016 with the Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV). The U.S. Navy accepted delivery of DDG 1000, the future guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) May 20, 2016. Following a crew certification period and October commissioning ceremony in Baltimore, Zumwalt will transit to its homeport in San Diego for a Post Delivery Availability and Mission Systems Activation. DDG 1000 is the lead ship of the Zumwalt-class destroyers, next-generation, multi-mission surface combatants, tailored for land attack and littoral dominance.

One word can be used to sum up the United States Navy‘s Zumwalt-class destroyer: “controversial.”

Designed as a new class of multi-mission stealth warships with a focus on land attacks, the sleek vessels could also take on secondary roles including surface and anti-aircraft warfare. The next-generation, multi-mission destroyers are also equipped with a state-of-the-art electric propulsion system, wave-piercing tumblehome hull, stealth design, and the latest war fighting technology and weaponry. But does the ship pack in too much new technology?

21st Century Warship

Looking like something out of science fiction, these are truly state-of-the-art and cutting-edge, but history has shown that new designs can be problematic.

Classed as destroyers, the Zumwalt-class was designed to be larger than any active destroyer or even cruiser but also met the congressional mandate for a warship that has the naval fire support of a battleship. The new warships were also developed to be capable of performing a range of deterrence, power projection, sea control and command and control missions – and were designed to operate in both the open ocean and near-shore environments.

The streamlined, wave-piercing tumblehome hull has a “knife-like profile,” which provides the 600-foot-long warship class with the radar signature of a fishing boat. And despite concerns over the stability of the hull, when it was tested in January 2020 off the coast of Alaska the lead vessel of the class, USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), handled rough waters as well – perhaps even better – as previous classes of destroyers.

USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000)

BATH, Maine (April 20, 2016) The future guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) departs Bath, Maine to conduct acceptance trials with the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV). Acceptance Trials are the last significant shipbuilding milestone before delivery of the ship to the U.S. Navy, which is planned for next month. While underway, many of the ship’s key systems and technologies including navigation, propulsion readiness, auxiliary systems, habitability, fire protection and damage control capabilities will be demonstrated to ensure they meet the Navy’s requirements. (U.S. Navy photo/Released)

Yet, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for the Navy’s cutting edge warship. A 2016 article in The National Review even described the vessel as “an unmitigated disaster,” after the $4 billion lead vessel broke down while passing through the Panama Canal just a month after it was commissioned.

The entire program also faced multiple delays and cost overruns, even as the Navy called the delivery of the warship a “major milestone.” It had originally planned to buy more than two dozen of the larger stealth destroyers, but that number was reduced to just three as costs ballooned and questions came up over what its role would actually be.

Land-Attack Drama

At issue is exactly how the warships could accomplish their primary mission of land attacks. As a new generation of warships, the Zumwalt-class was designed to be fitted with two 155mm Advanced Gun Systems (AGS), which are capable of engaging targets with precision-guided shells at a range of up to 60 miles. In wartime, the destroyers could use such an ability to engage targets from close to shore to create a path for an amphibious landing.

The problem is that the Long Range Land Attack Projectile, the precision-guided shell to be used in the AGS, ballooned in price from $50,000 to $800,000 for each round – making it simply too expensive to fire. The Navy has yet to find a replacement. The issue was even addressed in a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, which called out the Navy for ongoing problems with the vessel’s armaments.

Over the past year, the Navy has explored other options for the Advanced Gun Systems, and as a result, the role of the destroyers has changed from land attack to offensive surface strike – and modifications to make that switch cost around $1billion, the GAO noted as reported by Business Insider.

In October 2020, the Navy announced the DDG 1000 successfully executed the first live-fire test of the MK 57 Vertical Launching System with a Standard Missile (SM-2) on the Naval Air Weapons Center Weapons Division Sea Test Range, Point Mugu. The Navy said that during the tests USS Zumwalt also demonstrated its capability to detect, track and engage an Anti-Ship Cruise Missile threat with a SM-2. The structural test fire assessed the material readiness of the ship against shock and vibration of the weapon firing, as well as measure any hazards or degradations as a result of firing live ordnance.

According to the U.S. Navy, DDG 1000 will continue tactical training and operational scenario engagement in support of attaining Initial Operational Capability in 2021.

Despite the issues, the second of the Zumwalt-class, the USS Michael Monsoor, has been undergoing combat system activation at her homeport of San Diego, while the third and final ship, the USS Lyndon B. Johnson, is currently under construction in Maine.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

Note: This piece has been updated to fix a small typo. 

Written By

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Tom

    December 28, 2020 at 10:15 am

    While varied delivery systems gives commanders the flexibility of options to respond, it would seem the Navy isn’t addressing what the obvious future of naval warfare is to become. Inexpensive remote controlled barges that drones can use as movable airports to refuel and reload.

    No $2 Billion Destroyer is ever going to be parked off an enemy shore to use a 60 mile weapon; not engage an enemy state anyway. If a stealth ship is needed to fire on shore, why not put the 155 round gun on a sub? Then the surface signature is even smaller.

    The Ford is an awesome carrier, I’m glad we have it. But small carriers were the future 30 years ago, and they’ll be needed to develop the tech for obvious future. Caveat, unless beam weapons are real close to deployment.

    • Jack

      December 28, 2020 at 11:47 am

      We don’t know what the future of naval warfare will be. Subs can’t do naval bombardment. The Royal Navy looked into it with the M and X classes with 12″ guns. It didn’t work. Surface ships have staying power that subs and aircraft don’t have. The cheap 60 mile LRLAP was a good idea that did not work out. It happens.

      I still have my doubts that small carriers are the wave of the future. When the Navy looked into building one, they did the math and realized that it would cost about the same to just build another USS Kennedy CV-67, so the idea was scrapped. And the dirty little secret is that we do have 8 light carriers. We just call them LHD’s. Sadly, we just lost one to a fire.

      The problem is that the DoD, not just the Navy, got into it’s head that they should build a vehicle when the technology is not mature enough. This was a problem with the Fords, the Zumwalts, and the F-35.

    • Andy

      December 28, 2020 at 12:04 pm

      4.425 billion and counting.

  2. Brian Reilly

    December 28, 2020 at 3:09 pm

    DDG-1000 is the only possible result of a project when other peoples money is managed by a nameless, faceless committee kowtowing to idiot politicians who go to work for the companies that build and advise on the construction of that project.

    This one is a destroyer, add in the Ford carrier, F-35, the entire Federal covid spending spasms, and I am just getting going.

    Zumwalt (Named after a loser) is a scam used to transfer money to favored interests, and good for nothing else, not one thing.

  3. Bill Hocter

    December 28, 2020 at 3:22 pm

    Good organization learn from failures. We’ve had several recently in our Navy. We’re hopefully learning to spend money more carefully. I read recently that we’re prototyping new technologies on land more carefully before we put them on ships, the Ford class’ elevators being a case in point. I wonder what else we’re learning?

  4. Tony

    December 28, 2020 at 5:50 pm

    The Zumwalt, the Ford, the F-35 – Jesus, it’s enough to make a hawk into a dove.

  5. Paul

    December 30, 2020 at 11:23 am

    I can double or triple the firepower of the fleet in less than a year with a new class of ships. Just like they had rocket ships in WWII that dramatically change the equations, they can build new rocket ships that have nothing but missiles.

    They can build fast rocket ships with from 300-600 missiles on them and have two go with each task force at sea. That would 2x or 4x the firepower. The ships would cost less than $250 million to build plus the cost of the missiles. No R&D need be done as all the systems already exist.

    You can build 100 of the so there are always 30 or so in deployment. You don’t even need to have missiles for all of them as they can be easily loaded and offloaded.

    Currently a carrier task force as 600 total missiles. This would give it an additional 600-1200.

  6. CCColeman

    December 30, 2020 at 10:32 pm

    Unless they can get the E-Guns working it is a Multi-Billion Dollar Boondoggle. You can’t mass produce Experiments that cost as much as a carrier.

  7. Goat Fucker

    April 28, 2021 at 2:16 pm

    Boon Dog gel Baby! Keep me in the Overtime. Gotta love the Deepstate.

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