Surface Forces: Zumwalt Finds A Purpose

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September 20, 2018: The U.S. Navy has found a purpose for its three new DDG-1000 class stealth destroyers; anti-ship warfare. This will be accomplished by spending about $100 million to upgrade the DDG-1000 fire control systems to handle the new RIM-175 SM-6 anti-aircraft missiles. The DDG-1000 was built to be multi-purpose (anti-air, anti-sub, anti-ship and land attack). That last item, land attack, was to be carried out by two 155mm guns firing GPS guided shells. These shells could hit targets over a hundred kilometers inland with great accuracy. Through a series of misadventures, the Navy found it could not afford the ammo for these 155mm guns and could only afford to buy three DDG-1000s. The two 155mm guns are still useless but the latest changes make DDF-1000 much more effective against other ships as well as aircraft.

The key to this DDG-1000 is the new SM-6 (an upgrade of the existing SM-2), which can do everything better, especially the way it handles surface targets. This was a recent development as it was in 2017 that the Block 1A upgrade of the SM-6 passed its first tests (fired from a land-based facility) and after a few more successful test firings at sea entered production. Block 1A improvements are largely about the guidance system, especially the new anti-ship capability. SM-6 entered service in 2011 and anti-ship capability was added later. The initial order for SM-6 was for 1,200 missiles and it will eventually replace all the older SM-2s (entered service in 1979) and SM-3s (an advanced version of SM-2 that shoots down ballistic missiles). The SM-2 ER, which entered service in 1980 and was also capable of being used against ships. SM-6 has longer range and more effective guidance (and resistance to countermeasures like jamming) than the SM-2 and is meant to deal with aircraft, cruise missile and ballistic missiles more effectively as well. Max range of the SM-6 is given as 240 kilometers. The longer range and higher speed of the SM-6 make it particularly effective against other ships. The SM-6 is basically the existing SM-2 anti-aircraft missile with the more capable guidance system of the AMRAAM air-to-air missile, as well as general improvements in the electronics and other components.

The DDG-1000 upgrade will also enable the ship to use the Maritime Strike variant of the Tomahawk cruise missile. This version gets a new guidance system that enables Tomahawk to hit moving ships at sea. This version can also hit land targets as well and has a range of 1,700 kilometers. The anti-ship version needs some other ship or aircraft to determine the general area where the target is. DDG-1000 has 80 VLS (Vertical Launch Tubes) containing either anti-ship, cruise or anti-aircraft missiles. Now the mix of missiles will be SM-6, SM-3 (the anti-missile version) or Tomahawk.

The new destroyer (DDG-1000/Zumwalt Class, also known as DD-21 or DD-X) design has a stealthy superstructure and is as big. The new destroyer is a 14,000 ton ship, 194 meters (600 feet) long, and 25.5 meters (79 feet) wide. The crew of 150 sailors operates a variety of weapons, including two inoperative 155mm guns, two 40mm automatic cannons for close-in defense, six torpedo tubes, a helicopter, and three helicopter UAVs. DDG-1000 has sonar, Aegis radar, electronic warfare equipment, and the ability to shoot down ballistic missiles.

Alas because of the flaws of the American warship procurement system DDG-1000 proved too expensive in the quantities desired. Many other nations do not have the procurement problems the U.S. Navy is suffering from. Attempts to fix the U.S. Navy procurement mess constantly run into political opposition and that is another matter altogether. In 2009 the navy decided to build only three of the new DDG-1000 class ships (instead of 32) and resume building older DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class destroyers instead. It was a matter of cost. The new DDG-1000 destroyers (and slightly larger versions designated as cruisers) would cost more than $4 billion each if built in large quantities. The Burkes cost $1.9 billion each. The last of 62 original Burkes was ordered in 2002 and the last of those entered service in 2011. But by 2012 another 13 were on order and one was already under construction. The DDG-51 is less than half the cost of the DDG-1000, but some navy officials believe that, in the long run, the larger and more expensive DDG-1000 would be a better investment. The key problem here is the inability of the Navy to control costs, and cost estimates, and the inability of the DDG-51s to provide space for new technologies.

Cutting the DDG-1000 order to three ships meant the GPS guided shell for the 155mm guns was too expensive (about a million dollars a shell). For the moment the 155mm guns are inoperative. The Navy could convert them to fire unguided ammo as that would be the cheapest option. Replacing the six 155mm guns on the three DDG-1000s would be too expensive. The first DDG-1000 entered service in 2016 and performed well. The second one will enter service in early 2019 and the third in late 2019 or early 2020.

 


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