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Zumwalt: Will the Navy’s Stealth Destroyers Get Hypersonic Missiles?

USS Zumwalt
161208-N-ZF498-130 .SAN DIEGO (Dec. 8, 2016) The U.S. Navy's newest warship, USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) passes Coronado bridge on its way to Naval Base San Diego. Zumwalt is the lead ship of a class of next-generation multi-mission destroyers, now homeported in San Diego. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Anthony N. Hilkowski/Released)

The Zumwalt stealth destroyer has just returned from a three-month deployment in the Western Pacific. While deployed, the Zumwalt achieved various firsts – inspiring optimism in the beleaguered weapons program. Still, the Zumwalt is without its primary weapons system, a hypersonic missile, which remains in development.

Zumwalt Stealth Destroyer Deploys

The recent deployment began on August 1st, when the Zumwalt departed from its home port of San Diego; The Zumwalt returned to San Diego on November 10th. According to the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Amy McInnis, the Zumwalt sailed to Guam and then Japan while conducting joint and bilateral training missions en route.

Commander of the Surface Development Squadron One, Captain Shea Thompson, said that the Zumwalt participated in a variety of maritime live-fire operations. For example, the Zumwalt performed training operations alongside the US Air Force’s B-1 bomber from the 613th Air Operations Center in Hawaii. The Zumwalt also performed training operations alongside a Japanese destroyer and Japan’s Commander Task Force-71 staff. The Zumwalt also conducted operations with the US Army, which included work on a novel mine countermeasures concept using a forward-deployed explosive ordnance disposal unit.

“We made significant strides in learning how to employ, integrate, and sustain DDG-1000 in the forward environment,” Thompson said.

The Zumwalt’s crew also got to learn about their ship’s communications, maintenance, and logistics. For example, a contractor-led maintenance took place in Hawaii, giving the crew a better understanding of what expeditionary maintenance – that is maintenance outside of the Zumwalt’s home port – would be like.

Zumwalt and Those Hypersonic Missiles

Despite all the positive progress, the Zumwalt made on its three-month tour, big questions remain regarding the ship’s hypersonic missile platform. Supposedly, the Zumwalt’s hypersonic missile will be fielded next year. First, the US Army will receive a ground-based hypersonic missile. Then, the US Navy will receive the hypersonic missile, relying on a different launcher than the Army version.

The head of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Program, Vice Admiral Johnny Wolfe, reported that the Navy had been able to shoot new hypersonic missile out of a missile tube using pressurized air. During the missile tube-based tests, the hypersonic missile achieved an altitude before igniting that would be required to avoid damaging the ship. So, the test was somewhat successful, although the missile tube is not the actual launcher that will be deployed on the Zumwalt.

Installation of the hypersonic missile on the Zumwalt is not expected to happen until late 2025. Following installation, the hypersonic missile will require several months of testing aboard the Zumwalt before deployment. Essentially, we’re still a long way out from deployment.


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.

But progress is being made – which is a relief after several program delays. The warship was meant to be delivered in 2013, after all, nearly ten years ago. Combat system activation was supposed to be completed in 2014. And initial operational capability was supposed to be reached in 2015. So, clearly, the Zumwalt is behind schedule.

Still, the Navy is committed to bringing the Zumwalt online, in the hopes that the ship can serve as a versatile and futuristic addition to the Navy’s force structure at a time when the US is “pivoting to Asia” and the Pacific Theater becomes increasingly important.


Zumwalt-class destroyer. Image Credit: Raytheon.

“We’re putting a lot of resources and effort behind enhancing the surface strike capability on that platform,” Thompson said, “but then again, it’s a multimission warship: it can operate independently, it can operate in a [surface action group], it can operate within a strike group. It’s going to depend on how that fleet commander desires to employ her.”

Harrison Kass is the Senior 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 holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and 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.