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Zumwalt Destroyer Will Be Used as Just Another Missile Launch Vehicle

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

The Navy just announced that the three DDG-1000 Zumwalt destroyers, first ship launched in 2013 (first ship keel laid in 2009), will be assigned their first real deployments sometime in 2025 after they are upgraded to carry 12 hypersonic missiles per ship. This delay, one of many delays, is just another chapter of the Zumwalt's long and sordid history.

2016 - DDG-1000 Zumwalt Has Engineering Failure While Transiting Panama Canal and Has to Be Towed

When the DDG-1000 was first proposed by the Navy in early 1991 and approved by Congress in 1999, it was going to be class of 32 ships costing $1.354 billion dollars each. It was going to be able to operate stealthily in littoral waters, provide solid anti-submarine warfare capabilities, and the Advanced Gun Systems of the 32 ships in the class were going to help replace the Naval Surface Fire support the Marines needed and that the Navy had promised when it retired the last of the Iowa Class Battleship in in 1992.

But promises were not kept, and costs exploded while promised capabilities imploded. And billions of dollar of cost overruns and schedule delays resulted in the Navy capping the number of DDG-1000s at three, with a cost over $7 billion each. Incredibly, this is actually more than the $6.2 billion we paid for our last Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.

The much vaunted Advanced Gun System never performed as promised, and with only three ships in the class, the price of its 155-mm Long Range Land Attack Projectiles (LRLAP) have soared from tens of thousands of dollars to at least $800,000 per round. The LRLAP projectiles have the same same explosive payload as the $700 M795 155 mm projectile. Sure, the LRLAP has vastly superior range and accuracy, but at a cost 1,100 times that of the M795. The Tomahawk cruise missile, with its 1,000-pound warhead and $1 million price tag, delivers about 30 times more payload per dollar, with about 15 times the range than that of the LRLAP.

And the Zumwalt is a shining example of the Navy minimal manning initiative (now called optimal manning) which also gave us the Littoral Combat Ship. This initiative has uniformly produced ships not capable of the kind of high operational tempo that properly manned ships can maintain. And there is no chance it can conduct the kind of ship-saving and recovery operations that a Navy warship of this size should be able to execute after taking major damage. That is, if the Zumwalt suffers major damage, hull breaches, etc., its chances of survival are far less than past Navy warships of a similar size; it simply will not have enough crew members to do what is needed to save the ship.

Adding insult to injury, it was discovered/determined that for a variety of reasons, including extreme vulnerability to being attacked by submarines, that the Zumwalts will make poor ASW ships.

The one thing that the Zumwalt can do is be populated with hundreds of millions of dollars of very expensive missiles. And after expensive upgrades, each of the three Zumwalts will be able to carry 12 hypersonic missiles. Then it can launch these missile and its other missiles from distances and positions of low risk. This is all well and fine, but the Navy has no shortage of ships and submarines capable of launching missiles. Consequently, given its cost, being a missile truck hardly justifies its cost. But then again, using the Zumwalts for something versus nothing is definitely a plus. And perhaps, someday many years in the future, it may be able to mount railguns - when and if the many challenges facing railguns are overcome.

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