Congress Wants To Load Up Zumwalt-Class Destroyers With Hypersonic Weapons

Kyle Mizokami
Photo credit: U.S. Navy photo by Liz Wolter

From Popular Mechanics

  • The Zumwalt-class destroyers are under-gunned, thanks to expensive ammunition.
  • Congress wants the Navy to boost their firepower with hypersonic weapons.
  • Currently under development, Conventional Prompt Global Strike would give the destroyers the ability to destroy targets thousands of miles away in a matter of seconds.

Congress is poised to order the U.S. Navy to add a key new weapon system to its beleaguered class of destroyers. The House of Representatives plans to mandate that the Navy add the new Conventional Prompt Global Strike hypersonic missile to the Zumwalt-class destroyers. The order would beef up the firepower of a class of destroyers hobbled by a lack of ammunition for their high-tech guns.

According to U.S. Naval Institute News, the House of Representatives’ 2021 defense budget will carry a provision ordering the Navy to begin integration of Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPS) onto the Zumwalt class destroyers by 2021. CPS is a hypersonic weapon system that travels at speeds in excess of Mach 5—nobody really knows how fast—to destroy time-sensitive targets on the ground. CPS was originally designed to deploy aboard U.S. Navy submarines.

The U.S. Navy originally intended the stealthy Zumwalts as land attack destroyers, meant to creep up to an adversary’s coastline and then bombard targets ashore with the ship’s new 155-millimeter Advanced Gun Systems. The Navy cut the number of destroyers from 32 to just three, causing the price of the AGS’ precision-guided shell to balloon from a pricey $50,000 each to an unaffordable $566,000. As a result the U.S. Navy is repurposing the three remaining Zumwalts into ship killers, and plans to add new anti-ship missiles to the destroyers’ vertical launch silos.

Photo credit: Elizabeth A Wolter

It’s not clear how the Zumwalts will add new CPS missiles. CPS is too large to fit in the Zumwalts’ 80 Mk. 57 vertical launch missile silos. Unless the Navy removes the two AGS guns, the service will probably have to add the large missiles to the destroyers’ deck, which could spoil the ship’s carefully designed, stealthy, anti-radar profile. Bolting them to the deck might also interfere with the ship’s helicopter and drone flight operations, as the flight deck takes up nearly one-third of the warship.

The combination hypersonic weapons and the Zumwalt destroyers sound like peanut butter and chocolate all over again, but the reality is more complicated. Unless the Navy’s new hypersonic missile has some kind of anti-ship capability, CPS will shift the Zumwalts’ mission away from ship-killing and back to land attack. This ping-ponging of the ship’s role at sea will only further delay the introduction of the three ships into the fleet. The first in class, Zumwalt, is ideally supposed to be ready for action right now.

Source: U.S. Naval Institute News

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