The U.S. Navy's Zumwalt Destroyer: A Real Killer Or Waste of Money?

Kris Osborn

Key point: The Navy is experimenting with a new mission for the Zumwalt.

Navy developers of the new high-tech, stealthy USS Zumwalt destroyer are widening the mission envelope for the ship, exploring new ammunition for its guns and preparing to fire its first missiles next year.

The US Navy’s stealthy destroyer will fire an Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile and SM-2 in 2019 from its Mk 57 Vertical Launch Systems, marking the first time the new ship will fire weapons as part of its ongoing combat activation process.

The Navy is exploring a new range of weapons for its stealthy USS Zumwalt destroyer to better prepare the ship for future warfare against technically advanced enemies.

“The Navy is in the process of updating required documents to support new surface strike requirements,” according to Navy statements briefed at the service’s Sea Air and Space Annual Symposium by Zumwalt program manager Capt. Kevin Smith.

The new ship, engineered with a sleek, radar-evading design, was initially conceived of in terms of primarily engineering a shallow-water land attack platform. While the ship was envisioned as a multi-mission platform at its inception, current emerging threats and new technology have led Navy strategists to scope a wider strategic view for the ship.

In particular, given the rapid evolution of targeting technology and advanced long-range precision weaponry, particularly those being developed by near-peer adversaries, the strategic calculus informing maritime warfare is changing quickly.

Long-range strike technology, coupled with advanced seekers, electromagnetic weapons and higher-resolution sensors, quite naturally, create the need for greater stand-off ranges; such a technical phenomenon is a key element of the Navy’s current “distributed lethality” strategy designed to better prepare the Navy for modern, open blue-water combat operations against a technologically advanced adversary.

Part of the initial vision for this ship, which is still very much part of its equation, is to engineer a ship able to detect mines. For this reason, the ship has been architected with a shallow draft, enabling it to operate closer to shore than most deep water surface ships.

At the same time, threat assessment experts, strategists and Navy weapons developers also heavily emphasize the growing need for the ship to succeed in the event of major nation-state force-on-force maritime warfare.

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