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The Navy’s F-22: Why the Stealth Zumwalt Destroyers Failed

Zumwalt F-22
181207-N-IW125-1021 SAN DIEGO (Dec. 7, 2018) The Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001) arrives in homeport of San Diego. The future USS Michael Monsoor is the second ship in the Zumwalt-class of guided- missile destroyers and will undergo a combat availability and test period. The ship is scheduled to be commissioned into the U.S. Navy Jan 26, 2019 in Coronado, Cailf. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Nicholas Huynh/Released)

The U.S. Navy’s Zumwalt-class (DDG-1000) stealth destroyer—the Lyndon B. Johnson—was able to complete its “builder’s trials” at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Maine last week.

Despite being saddled with a two-year delay largely due to cost overruns, delays, and technical problems, the next-generation ship is expected to enter service in mid-2024.

According to expert Parth Satam of the EurAsian Times, “the F-22 of warships, the Zumwalt, is revolutionary in many respects, primarily being the world’s full stealth warship, whose Radar Cross Section (RCS) is as small as a small fishing trawler. It achieves this through a combination of radar reflecting surfaces, paint, and electromagnetic emissions.”

He added that the “16,000-ton ship will see finalization of her basic hull, mechanical and electrical systems before heading to the Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi. This is a departure from how Zumwalt and USS Michael Monsoor were completed, where the complete installation and testing of the ship’s air search radar, vertical launch missile cells, combat system, and commissioning took place at Bath. This will make space for the ongoing modernization of the U.S. Navy’s existing Arleigh Burke-class destroyers which are being upgraded with the Flight III version of the Aegis combat system.”

Issues Arise

However, the Zumwalt program hasn’t been entirely smooth sailing—and it’s not only due to the $4 billion price tag or the $10 billion in development costs.

“For one, its trademark, ‘tumblehome’ hull is feared to be unstable with the possibility of tipping over if a wave hits the ship under the right sea conditions, the right angle, and the right speed. The first-of-its-kind IPS has been found to have severe problems with its software, causing several operational issues. The radar-evading structure—stealth no doubt—has been, still been found to be vulnerable to, ironically, lower-frequency S-band radars,” Satam wrote.

“If not an old-school radar system, technologically proficient militaries with sufficiently networked assets, battlefield management systems, sensor fusion, and data sharing can eventually find a roundabout, complicated tricks to detect stealth,” he continued.

Lagging Behind Russia and China

Satam noted that both Russia and China, which boast advanced systems and technologies, won’t be completely vulnerable to such platforms.

“Most astonishingly, the ship lacks a Close-In Weapons System (CIWS), that can’t protect it from salvos of anti-ship missiles,” he said. “Even the 57 mm Mark-110 cannons that were originally planned on the Zumwalt had only limited CIWS capability, without the reliability of the 20 mm Phalanx Gatling gun or the Rolling Airframe Missile and SeaRAM point Missile Defence Systems. The cannons were dropped from the Zumwalt’s basic design in 2014 to not add to its radar signature!”

US Navy Shipyards

Image Credit: Creative Commons.

USS Lyndon B. Johnson

181209-N-LM768-6258.BATH, Maine (Dec. 9, 2018) Following a multi-day process that includes moving the ship from the land level facility to the dry dock, the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG 1002) is made ready before flooding of the dry dock at General Dynamic-Bath Iron Works shipyard, and subsequent launching of the third Zumwalt-class destroyer. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics-Bath Iron Works/Released)

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

Written By

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. John Egan

    September 27, 2021 at 9:01 pm

    I’m not sure what the purpose of a ship is these days unless it’s an aircraft carrier… It seems to me a massive nuclear fleet would make more sense and we produce very functional and hidden submarines.. BUT! If you really wanted a surface vessel with a low profile, why not copy those Columbian drug smugglers who use boats that run at the surface with hardly anything sticking out of the water.. In essence, they’re surface running subs… If you wanted gunnery, then have it rise from the bowels on elevators.. If you want a conning tower.. then do the same.. The rest of the time it’s silhouette would only be a few feet above water….

  2. Cerebus001

    September 28, 2021 at 8:41 am

    The future is underwater and surface drones. Lots of them. They could easily serve asa component of the overall armament strategy for this vessel and probably are.

  3. Randy

    September 29, 2021 at 9:17 pm

    One way these ships could be effectively used is dependant on the development of rail guns into an effective shipboard weapon system. Having the ship killing punch of a Battleship whilst being hard to track in the great big Blue would make these ships truly lethal.

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