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The Navy’s Last Stealth Zumwalt Destroyer Has a Huge Problem

Last Zumwalt-class Destroyer
151207-N-ZZ999-435.ATLANTIC OCEAN (Dec. 7, 2015) The future USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) is underway for the first time conducting at-sea tests and trials in the Atlantic Ocean Dec. 7, 2015. The multimission ship will provide independent forward presence and deterrence, support special operations forces, and operate as an integral part of joint and combined expeditionary forces. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics Bath Iron Works/Released)

The Navy is taking a different tack with the USS Lyndon B. Johnson, opting for more Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers first. Nonetheless, the new stealth destroyer may enter service with no large weapons platforms to defend itself. 

Last of Its Kind

The U.S. Navy’s third and final Zumwalt-class ship, the USS Lyndon B. Johnson, will soon have its combat system activated after completing basic sea trials. The shipbuilder will do further work on the ship’s onboard electrical system before the ship is finished.

“For DDG-1002 [the last Zumwalt], the Navy changed its delivery plan over the past year. According to the program manager, instead of taking custody of the ship from the builder’s yard and completing the combat system at Naval Base San Diego, the Navy is now planning to contract with a private shipyard to install the combat system and will not take delivery or commission DDG-1002 until it is fully complete,” stated a GAO report on major acquisition programs, reported on by USNI News.

“The program manager stated that this new approach may result in additional schedule delays; however, it will free up valuable pier space in Naval Base San Diego and enable the Navy to avoid moving the crew onboard DDG-1002 until it is ready to operate. The program manager identified the change as a response to lessons learned from DDG-1000 and 1001—specifically, that completing combat system activation and final construction is complicated by onboard crew, in part, because access to spaces is more constrained.”

Useless Guns, But Lots of Electricity

One of the most important components of the Navy’s Zumwalt-class is the ship’s power generation system, which, compared to other ships, generates huge amounts of electricity. The emphasis on electrical power output, in theory, gives the Zumwalt’s the flexibility to power a variety of weapon systems in the future. For example, one proposed weapon that would have been a first on an active-duty U.S. Navy warship was an electromagnetic rail gun, a very energy-intensive electrically-powered weapon. However, the weapon was ultimately not incorporated into the ship.

Although this delivery scheme will very likely delay the last Zumwalt’s introduction into Navy service, it will allow work to continue on the Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers.

One of the glaring failures of the Zumwalt-class is the platform’s Advanced Gun System which sought to arm the ships with very long-range 155mm naval artillery guns. Though several systems are installed on the Zumwalt ships, the guns are essentially neutered as they lack ammunition.

Bottom Line

Ammunition and weapon system debacles aside, the Zumwalts may ultimately be armed with a hypersonic weapon, possibly the Navy’s Common Hypersonic Glide Body. If integrated into the class, the Zumwalt’s will have come full-circle: from a naval fire support platform designed to support forces onshore to a blue water strike platform.

Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist based in Europe. He lives in Berlin and covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society.

Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. A

    September 15, 2021 at 10:49 am

    Not seeing where 1002 has any problems unique to the class other than combat system fit out at another yard and that steel deckhouse not built by the yard which is now installing the combat system on that deck house. Its biggest issue is people failing to see the potential.

  2. Brian Foley

    September 15, 2021 at 11:44 am

    The US Navy has suffered repeated “failures” with several programs. The three most obvious are the Ford class, the LCS program, and the Zumwalt class. The Ford class may yet turn out to be a success, the LCS may eventually turn into something useful and the Zumwalt class could also turn out to be of some value. The worst failure in the US Navy is within its leadership. Ships can be repaired or modified, but the failure in leadership has cost the Navy dearly. A good analogy is blaming a baseball teams problems on the gloves and the bats….that’s the US Navy right now.

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