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Meet the Zumwalt-Class: The Navy’s Stealth Destroyer Flop?

Zumwalt Stealth Destroyers
080723-N-0000X-001 An artist rendering of the Zumwalt class destroyer DDG 1000, a new class of multi-mission U.S. Navy surface combatant ship designed to operate as part of a joint maritime fleet, assisting Marine strike forces ashore as well as performing littoral, air and sub-surface warfare. (U.S. Navy photo illustration/Released)

Zumwalt was supposed to be a game-changing stealth destroyer and part of a big class of new warships. Sadly it seems to be more hype than anything else: The United States Navy’s Zumwalt-class destroyer was billed as the future of naval warfare. Designed to incorporate brand new stealth technology, and brand-new weapons systems, the Zumwalt was to replace the aging Arleigh Burke-class. Initially, the Navy was scheduled to procure 32 Zumwalts. But the program went rampantly overbudget while the new ship performed below expectations. The Navy withdrew support, asking Congress to stop procuring Zumwalts and instead build more of the familiar, reliable Arleigh Burke destroyers. Congress obliged and only three Zumwalts were ever delivered.

The Zumwalt-Class incorporated stealth technology

The Zumwalt was an ambitious project, full of innovative technology. For starters, the Zumwalt was a stealth ship. Despite being 40 percent larger than the Arleigh Burke, the Zumwalt has a radar cross-section (RCS) comparable to a fishing boat. The key to such a deceptive RCS is the Zumwalts hull design. The Zumwalt’s hull grows narrower above the waterline, in a tumblehome style. The tumblehome was common on wooden warships and had a flare of popularity with steel warships in the late 19th century. But when three of four Russian tumblehome battleships were lost in the Russo-Japanese War, the design was declared ineffective for modern warfare and fell out of style for nearly one hundred years. Now, stealth-seeking modern navies are reintroducing the shape to meet low-RCS requirements.

In addition to the tumblehome design, the Zumwalt has a composite deckhouse, which encases the ship’s sensory and electronic equipment in low RCS material. Between the tumblehome hull and the composite deckhouse, the Zumwalt’s RCS is about 50 times harder to detect on radar than older destroyers. And the Zumwalt is quiet—with an acoustic signature more similar to a Los Angeles-class submarine than a surface warship.

However, the applicability of the Zumwalt’s stealth has been called into question. The Zumwalt was designed to provide Naval Surface Fire Support with a focus on land attacks. So, the Zumwalt was meant to operate in typically crowded, near-shore waters where ships can be tracked visually. And the Zumwalt, naturally, was intended to fire its impressive arsenal—meaning, that once the ship started firing, its stealth properties would be compromised.

The Zumwalt-Class was outfitted with modern weaponry

To adequately provide Naval Surface Fire Support, the Zumwalt was designed around a bevy of modern weapons. Actually, a bevy of modern weapons were designed around the Zumwalt.

BAE built the Advanced Gun System (AGS), a naval artillery system, specifically for the Zumwalt. And Lockheed Martin built the Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) as ammunition specifically for the AGS. In fact, the AGS cannot operate without the LRLAP—a rocket-assisted, 155m projectile with fin glide trajectory. So, when the Navy cancelled procurement of the LRLAP, the AGS was left without ammunition. That’s right: The AGS does not have any ammunition.

The LRLAP worked well—performance wasn’t the issue. Testing proved the LRLAP could hit a target accurately from 59 miles away. No, the LRLAP’s problem was cost. When the Zumwalt-class was slashed from 32 ships to just three, the need for LRLAP shells went down, too. Meaning, the cost behind developing each shell went up. Way up. The cost per individual LRLAP shell rose to an unacceptable $800,000-$1,000,000—roughly the same as a Tomahawk cruise missile. The Navy’s original plan, to buy 2,000 LRLAP rounds, would have cost about $2 billion. The ammo-less AGSs will be removed from the Zumwalts in 2023.

Accordingly, the Zumwalt-class will get a new weapons platform: hypersonic missiles.

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Ashli Babbitt deserved that bullet

    May 22, 2022 at 5:15 am

    Zumwalt would have been affordable if Bush the dumber hadn’t lied America into Iraq. Nor would the military be forced to use Cold War garbage into the 2030s.

  2. Ashli Babbitt deserved that bullet

    May 22, 2022 at 5:16 am

    Zumwalt would have been affordable if a trust baby hadn’t lied America into Iraq. Nor would the military be forced to use Cold War garbage into the 2030s.

    • Whydon'tcha

      May 22, 2022 at 2:48 pm

      So spend money we don’t have on a ship that doesn’t work eh. Or by virtue of your oh so fatuous comments did you even bother to read the article. Yeah, we didn’t need that war but we don’t need this ship either.

  3. OLGA

    May 22, 2022 at 5:29 am

    Why are the US hesitating to send Ukraine anti ship missiles , why do they always fear Putin reaction? Because of nuke threat I suppose well Russia seem to think they alone possess nukes the UK alone can decimate Russia and its people and they cannot do a single thing to stop this and they will desist if they ever attack the UK with mass destruction weapons. Any way Russia will lose the war so if Putin is going to use nukes that’s what will happen sending anti ship missiles will make no difference, when are the West grow the bollocks to ignore Russia and concentrate on assisting Ukraine to defeat Russian military. After all Russian troops have murderered babies ,infants,men,women they shoot people in the back of the head like the Cowards and scum they are,they rape girls and women boys and girls target civilian infrastructure and basically do what they want,Russia is a TERRORIST STATE AND SUPPORTS TERRORISTS ASWELL, NOW I THOUGHT THE WEST WAS AGAINST TERRORISTS SO GO AND PULVERISE THE RUSSIAN MILITARY IN UKRAINE AND ATTACK RUSSIA MOSCOW ST PETERSBERG FLATTEN THEM THEN ASK RUSSIA TO SURRENDER AND TO HEEL . IF THEY DON’T COMPLY DESCIMATE RUSSIA SEE HOW THEY LIKE IT.DON’T EVER BACK DOWN TO TERRORISTS BIDEN SEND ANTI SHIP MISSILES AND ALL LETHA WEAPONS UKRAINE NEED TO DEFEAT RUSSIA TERRORIST MILITARY NOW, HOPEFULLY A BRAVE GOOD CONSCIOUS DECENT RUSSIAN WILL ELIMINATE PUTIN FROM THIS PLANET WITH OUT THIS HAPPENING THE WORLD HAS NO PLACE FOR THE LIKES OF PUTIN A DELLUSIONAL PSYCHOPATH LOST IN HIS OWN WARPED MIND A PATHETIC DESPOT HE MUST DESIST FAST.

    • Ti

      May 22, 2022 at 5:32 am

      And so say all of us.

      • Whydon'tcha

        May 22, 2022 at 3:01 pm

        Lol

    • Whydon'tcha

      May 22, 2022 at 2:57 pm

      UK can decimate Russia? In your fervent imagination no doubt. In reality GB would prove little more than a sizzling stain on the open sea when all is said and done. Furthermore with their advanced air defense it’s doubtful if any of GB’s nuclear inventory would ever reach there respective targets. Reagan was scorned for his strategic initiative as star wars yet the Russians now have better and more copious strategic defense than the US. Gee, ones left to wonder why. It’s obvious that your post is based upon emotion as opposed to fact.

  4. Fester Lester

    May 22, 2022 at 8:18 am

    Returning to the matter at hand: they doomed this enterprise the moment they decided to name it after Admiral Zumwalt, who was inarguably one of the worst things that ever happened to the USN. Under his commands, the Navy became a pot-smoking, beard-growing, combination cover-wearing joke.

    Not sure why History can’t leave the mediocrity and sub-par leadership behind us. Why do we keep rewarding these people by naming things after them?

    Next we’ll be seeing a Trump-class destroyer. It’ll cost a trillion dollars a ship, run completely äss-backward, and never make it out of dock.

    • Jim

      May 22, 2022 at 12:30 pm

      I’m assuming you would prefer a Biden class ship.

  5. Mark Tercsak

    May 22, 2022 at 8:32 pm

    Like any knew weapons system that is generational game changer. initial costs are going to be high
    Then we have the skiddish politicians and not enough sailors willing to fight for the Zumwalts.
    Thus it was decided to scale back production of the ship and when you scale back production of the ship. costs goes up. Because. you are building less. The same goes for the 6.1 inch 155 mm naval gun , the original costs for the munitions was no where the costs the author reported. Until the reduced the class to just 2 ships. Iraq had nothing to do with it. Big Aircraft Admirals yes

  6. siempre

    May 23, 2022 at 10:09 am

    Stealth for a ship is just hype. Is the US Navy saying that it would be fooled by a radar signature the size of a fishing boat that otherwise is obviously a warship?
    Zumwalt is an absurd hull cost for no reason that was built so admirals could get kickbacks.
    Now that China’s threat is large, admirals are working on putting missles and sensors in containers that can be bolted onto any hull. Zumwalt was originally designed to carry a cannon. A 3 billion dollar ship carrying a cannon costing a million per round. Now, the plan is to bolt 155 howitzer onto whatever hull.
    Interesting how threat of real war changes things.

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