Surface Forces: Zumwalts Get Seawolfed


September 21, 2011: After many close calls and threats of cancellation, the U.S. Navy believes it has found the money to complete construction of the second and third DDG 1000 Zumwalt class destroyers. These ships were to be the next generation of destroyers. Design began in the early 1990s as a search for a radical new design for 21st century warships. These post-Cold War vessels were to be unique warships of the future. While lower cost was one of the objectives, it was skyrocketing costs, more than anything else, that killed the effort to build 32 of these ships. Now there will only be three, and maybe only one, if Congress disagrees with the admirals.

Three years ago, the U.S. Navy ordered the first two DDG 1000s, at a projected cost $3.3 billion each. At that point, the navy was only planning to buy seven Zumwalts. Since then, the buy has been reduced to three ships, and the cost (partly because R&D had to be spread over fewer ships) escalated to $6.6 billion a ship. That's more than the last, 100,000 ton, Nimitz class aircraft carrier cost ($6.2 billion, in 2009). Until the recent decision, only the construction of the first one was assured.

Cutting the buy to seven ships, and then to three, was only partly due to the escalating costs. There was also the growing realization that the Zumwalts were seen as the wrong ship, at the wrong time. For one thing, the navy was eager to build more of the older, and cheaper, DDG 51s, which had proven highly capable, especially when they underwent an inexpensive modification that gave them the ability to shoot down ballistic missiles. There was talk of tweaking the DDG 51 design a bit, and forgetting all about DDG 1000. The DDG 51 is back in production, and only three DDG 1000s will be built. The navy will then be able to see just how successful, or not, this new design actually was. Meanwhile, the navy knows that the DDG 51s work well, which is why so many admirals, and sailors, wanted more of them. Most importantly, the new DDG 51s cost less than a quarter what a DDG 1000 goes for. Thus there are 15 new DDG 51s on order, and upgrades to existing ones will keep them in service for at least 40 years. The Buekes began entering service just as the Cold War ended.

Compared to the previous class of American destroyers (the DDG 51s), the Zumwalts are very different. The DDG 51s displaced 9,200 tons and had a crew of 281. The DDG 1000s displace 14,000 tons and have a crew of 142. The DDG 1000s are stealthy and carry a larger gun (two automated, long range 155mm weapons). It also has 80 vertical cells for anti-aircraft, land attack and anti-ship missiles. It can carry one or two helicopters, plus three RQ-8A helicopter UAVs. The DDG 1000s are highly automated and are crammed with the latest electronics. The first DDG 1000 will enter service in four years.

This is the second new ship design that the U.S. Navy has had to back off on since the end of the Cold War. In 1995, the U.S. Navy cancelled mass production of the new Seawolf SSNs (nuclear attack boats). Designed at the end of the Cold War, the Seawolfs were too expensive for the post-Cold War navy, and only three were built. A new, cheaper, Virginia class SSN was designed and put into mass production, to replace the aging Los Angeles class boats.



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