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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

The US Navy’s Zumwalt Stealth Destroyer: A Rusty Mess?

(Oct. 15, 2016) The Navy's newest and most technologically advanced warship, USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), is moored to the pier during a commissioning ceremony at North Locust Point in Baltimore. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Nathan Laird/Released)

USS Zumwalt Stealth Destroyer Already Showing Unseemly Age Marks: The U.S. Navy’s much-ballyhooed stealth USS Zumwalt destroyer looks like it has acne.

There are rust spots covering the ship and it doesn’t look healthy for a once-shiny new vessel. One 1945 analyst has noticed rust not just on the Zumwalt, but on other ships, particularly at Naval Station Norfolk, headquarters of the Atlantic fleet where at least three ships showed rusty spots. Is this a larger problem with maintenance in the navy or just a cost of doing business when conducting surface warfare patrols all over the world?

The Stealthiness of the Zumwalt-class

The USS Zumwalt is the lead vessel of two other Zumwalt-class advanced destroyers that have a distinct shape. The 610-foot Zumwalt-class ships have stealth characteristics from a small radar cross-section that is supposed to give the ships the ability to cruise closer to shore and fire their ordnance without being detected.

The Zumwalt-class ships have a unique look because of their tumblehome hull. This helps with the stealth features. The propulsion system is electric. The Zumwalt name was supposed to be synonymous with the highest levels of technology and the latest weaponry.

Other Modern Features Are Noteworthy

The all-electric ship has dual-band radar. One networked computing system handles all functions on the ship. Two sonar arrays are housed in the hull are designed to help the ship excel at undersea warfare. The MK57 Vertical Launching System handles the missile firing.

Not Smooth Sailing

But the acquisition life cycle has been rocky.

In 2016, the USS Zumwalt had to be towed out of the Panama Canal because it ran aground and its props quit. The navy originally wanted to buy twelve, but the program’s cost ballooned, and it was afflicted with delays. Only three exist. The Zumwalts’ total cost has been estimated at $14 billion.

There are other problems. The hull could become unstable in heavy seas, and it could be detected with low-frequency radar. To keep the radar evasion maximized, the close-in weapon systems were not equipped, and this is dangerous when it comes to defending appropriately against an enemy inbound anti-ship missile.


210421-N-FC670-1062 PACIFIC OCEAN (April 21, 2021) Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001) participates in U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem (UxS IBP) 21, April 21. UxS IBP 21 integrates manned and unmanned capabilities into challenging operational scenarios to generate warfighting advantages. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon Renfroe)

Expensive Munitions

Other armaments have been controversial. The Zumwalt was supposed to come with two 155mm Advanced Gun Systems. These use precision-guided shells that have a range of 60 miles. This would help prep an area for the marines to conduct amphibious operations.

But the Long Range Land Attack Projectile, a precision-guided munition, costs a whopping $800,000 per round. This is just too high a cost to be used. Even training missions would set the navy back too much. The Department of Defense doesn’t know how to replace it.

The USS Michael Monsoor, another Zumwalt-class ship, is performing various training off the west coast of North America, while the USS Lyndon B. Johnson is conducting builder’s trials.

The Rust Is Embarrassing

Now, about that rust.

This is a problem that shows neglect and even could symbolize larger difficulties with the U.S. Navy’s maintenance procedures.

It reminds me of the “broken window” theory of crime-fighting. If police officers ignore minor problems like broken windows in abandoned buildings and they walk past vandalism like nothing is wrong, it can lead to bigger incidences of crime down the road. The lesson here is not to ignore early deficiencies without doing anything about them.

Yes, the Navy has a high operational tempo and must do stressful deployments, especially in East Asia, where a mistake or miscalculation could cause the captain of the ship to be relieved immediately.

So, what is the problem? Is it maintenance budgets? If that is the case, Congress needs to take a tour of these installations and form their own opinions on what to do. The Secretary of the Navy needs to see these photos of rusty ships. If the leadership is not going to come from the active duty uniformed navy, then it needs to come from the civilian side.

What if Covid is hurting naval readiness and there are not enough sailors to remove the rust spots with corrosion control? This question should also be addressed by Congress and the Office of the Secretary of the Navy too.

Our competitors can spot trouble. Rust spots are embarrassing, and China and Russia are likely looking on with amusement knowing the U.S. Navy can’t take of what would seem to be basic maintenance.

To be fair, the navy has answered with their side of the story in this article from the “For the Surface Force, preservation is a constant battle against corrosion. The harsh environment in which we operate degrades our ships, and our sailors work hard to address corrosion along with all the maintenance and crew training required to sustain our Navy’s warfighting readiness.”

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.



  1. Brent Leatherman

    January 7, 2022 at 9:51 pm

    The entire fleet looks like crap. As a used to be First LT on two Gators, I’m appalled and offended. We left you guys a great fleet and you wrecked it. 🙁

  2. Talley man

    January 7, 2022 at 10:26 pm

    Wooe looks like a used car lot the bars wear civilian walk off the bas s Rob the military , the military ain’t here to feed civilian clothes them feed them or steel from them.

    • Poop

      January 9, 2022 at 10:05 pm

      You get paid to write this drivel. Got the time ticking in my head

  3. Phillip Adkins

    January 7, 2022 at 10:31 pm

    Funny how they spend so much money on a ship and the paint is so. Heap and thin that rust forms from fog and dew even. Yet Congress won’t hold the companies responsible and continue to waste our tax dollars on trashy jobs a their own pay raises. SHAMEFUL BRANDON

  4. Rexford L

    January 8, 2022 at 12:12 am

    175 crew members on a 600 ft long ship and this is what you get!

  5. Daniel Goddard

    January 8, 2022 at 12:30 am

    Maybe THEY took the lead out the red-lead primer paint.

    • corners

      May 22, 2022 at 2:01 pm

      Its because the propulsion system is made of aluminum, galvanic corrosion is a masssive issue

  6. Rhys. F.

    January 8, 2022 at 1:58 am

    Too few men on too big a ship and painting rust gets bumped down in preference for tightening pipes and bolts.
    Cosmetic comes after operational maintenance.

  7. Fir

    January 8, 2022 at 2:21 am

    Ships being frequently deployed oftentimes bear those rust marks they do eventually get addressed but it’s a matter of priorities.Our competitors navies suffer the same effects of the harsh environment we all operate in just as much as we do.

  8. Giovanni

    January 8, 2022 at 2:54 am

    If I may… some clarifications:
    – the total cost of the entire Zumwalt program (RDT&E plus procurement) will actually be over $24 billion;
    – Zumwalt does not have Dual Band Radar;
    – DoD and US Navy have already decided how to replace AGS, and they will do it by installing Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) system launchers

  9. Ian Mac

    January 8, 2022 at 5:57 am

    Warships get rusty, constantly used ones especially, salt water is corrosive, I’m sure it will be rectified on the next VIP visit.

  10. Slomiany

    January 8, 2022 at 8:39 am

    served onboard the Uss San Jacinto from 93-96 as a boatwains mate and that ship never had a spot of rust. The captains I served under would never allow their ship to look like this. Its the lack of discipline in our military which is very concerning. Its getting lazy and sensitive like the rest of this country. Get the military squared away!

  11. Jim MCkee

    January 8, 2022 at 8:43 am

    I’ll bet that one of those ship’s would be sparkling, neat and clean if some VIP Congress person or the VP herself were to visit!

  12. Big cods

    January 8, 2022 at 8:56 am

    The navy doesn’t want the boatswain mates getting their hands dirty. They would rather wait until homeport to pay civilian painter contractors 50 times it would cost sailors to paint themselves. New generation doesn’t like work. 50 years ago o was in the fireroom painting 7 days a week. We had pride in how our ship looked to the world.

  13. Cruiser Pilot

    January 8, 2022 at 11:32 am

    No sense spending money on a ship that is heading to be scrapped in the near future. Why put lipstick on a pig.

    The navy may keep it floating for a few years to protect a few careers.

  14. Chris

    January 8, 2022 at 11:35 am

    Most of that is not rust. It’s the stealth square patches. Don’t smoke what this guy is selling

  15. Paul L.

    January 8, 2022 at 11:37 am

    Big Cods above has it right, except he lacks context.

    The reason that Boatswain’s Mates don’t paint the hull is mainly an issue of liability for the Captain. If any of these junior sailors who do the painting drop any into the ocean, the Captain is personally fined. That’s why Captains prefer professional shipyard workers. The monetary and career incentive for them is to put off that maintenance.

    The City of San Diego and the Federal Government is -very- quick to fine the Navy for any of these issues. Look at the Bonhomme Richard fire in 2020 – while the fire was still raging, the City and the EPA were already issuing very heavy fines to that command. Again, this is WHILE sailors and emergency services are risking their lives for the ship! The issue of fines is ever present and unrelenting for the Captain.

    The second contributing factor is the operational tempo being astoundingly high, with ships completing record at sea times during 2020/2021. Look at the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s “double pump” deployment schedule to see how little time has been spent in maintenance. There is constant career pressure towards Captains and Strike Group to cut corners to make these insane operational tempo goals reality. So, you get less shipyard painting too.

  16. Mark Halsten

    January 8, 2022 at 12:12 pm

    During my 21 year Naval career, if a skipper pulled into port…. Especially Homeport…. with his ship looking like this, a squadron staff car would be pierside before the first line was thrown.

    This is an embarrassment, and frankly an example of very poor leadership.

    I saw the collapse of the Soviet Navy during the Cold War, and this is exactly what their vessels looked like during that time.

    An infantryman is taught to meticulously care for and maintain his weapon, because that weapon, if not maintained properly will not function when needed.

    Instead of encouraging Esprit de Corps, Unit Pride and Professionalism, Navy leadership has stressed divisive policies focusing on diversity, inclusion, equity and racist theories.

    Our adversaries are training for war while the U.S. military is training to be a politically correct social experiment, rather than a lethal fighting force.

    If our fighting forces continue on this path, and IF we ever meet our adversaries in battle, we will lose.

  17. Greg Elvis

    January 8, 2022 at 12:19 pm

    People who know little of combat ship operations and sea service complaining about normal corrosion are an interesting breed. It takes a sec to photograph a ship returning from sea trials or deployment looking a bit worse for wear. When I was in, my fighter squadron had a rule, combat craft fly combat missions first and look pretty later. Do the corrosion control that is necessary to keep the ship or aircraft operational then take care of the cosmetics when expedient, like in port or during down time when safe. On deployment, there’s no press at sea when the ship is on maneuvers and I can guarantee that the surface corrosion you’re seeing doesn’t make a warship less deadly and will be taken care of posthaste.

  18. Greg Elvis

    January 8, 2022 at 12:32 pm

    By the way, note for the author of this article: Broken Windows as a theory has largely been discredited by sociologists and criminologist due to the False Cause Fallacy or correlation doesn’t not prove causality.

  19. Judge

    January 8, 2022 at 12:40 pm

    @phillipadkins “Funny how they spend so much money on a ship and the paint is so. Heap and thin that rust forms from fog and dew even. Yet Congress won’t hold the companies responsible and continue to waste our tax dollars on trashy jobs a their own pay raises. SHAMEFUL BRANDON” I agree with your quote, “shamefully brandon” but contractors aren’t to blame, they have processes and procedures they follow to the contract specs, this is a government run issue.

  20. Greg Elvis

    January 8, 2022 at 12:49 pm

    **Correction: Correlation does not prove causation…

  21. Scott

    January 8, 2022 at 3:24 pm

    Well we see how this costly program played out. Super costly and not much to show for it.


    January 8, 2022 at 8:14 pm

    Thank you to those who realize that this isn’t a manning issue as much as a quality (lowest bidder) problem. Being on the inside of this topic, I can confirm that the tax payers are fleeced,from the builders of these ships to the shipyard that are contracted for repairs and maintenance, right down to the poor quality of paint products from the lowest bidder.

  23. Greg Baker

    January 9, 2022 at 12:43 am

    Funny,guys saying 100 some crew on a 600 foot ship isn’t enough to keep up with corrosion. I’m the bosun on a 950 foot LMSR. When it’s FOS we have a total crew of around 30. In ROS I have 2 guys with me in deck department.

  24. DBMetz

    January 9, 2022 at 10:37 am

    This is the result of a society that is governed by people, at every level, who are more concerned with social engineering rather than practical engineering. And we the people are directly responsible for putting them in those positions of leadership. Now, in 2022, we continue to reap the rotten fruit of the seeds we have sewn. There is a way out of this, but we have to be willing to adopt and nurture the strength of character, discipline, self-sacrifice, and responsibility that is required of us to be successful in all of our endeavors.

  25. J. Coop

    January 9, 2022 at 1:51 pm

    Since Brandon woke the navy with vax mandates staffing got tight?

  26. Michael Mappin

    January 9, 2022 at 5:15 pm

    Promotion in today’s navy is primarily based on who has been at a command the longest thus getting the premium evaluations that lead to higher rank. That, and whatever leadership there is, is busy with managing social agendas. One last thing, effective paints have been replaced with lower bidders or manufacturers that have hook ups in the supply chain.

  27. Simon

    January 14, 2022 at 7:28 pm

    In the Napoleonic wars the royal navy conducted a blockade. French naval forces were forced into long periods of inactivity in blockaded ports. British forces endured years of hard service. I’m sure the royal navy ship’s appeatances were worn by that long blockade, but their effectiveness was higher by far than their enemies, forced to stay in port.
    I just think the rust might be a sign of competence, rather than a sign of deprectitude…

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