The world’s largest destroyer will soon have a working weapons system - four years after being commissioned into the US Navy. A source inside the Zumwalt program told Defense News on Saturday that the final piece of the ship’s new combat system is due to be installed before the month is out.
The massive USS Zumwalt was conceived as a replacement for the shore-shelling capabilities of the US battleship fleet. When the four Iowa-class battleships were deactivated for good after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the Navy went looking for a replacement warship capable of ship-to-shore bombardment in support of a Marine landing.
The SC-21 research and development program eventually yielded the Zumwalt, built around the powerful Advanced Gun System, a 155-millimeter cannon capable of firing 10 rounds a minute at targets up to 83 nautical miles away. Each Zumwalt-class ship was to have two such cannons, giving them the effective firepower of two 155-millimeter howitzer batteries, or roughly 16 land-based guns.
However, budget cuts led to the Navy steadily trimming its expected Zumwalt-class fleet, first from 28 ships to seven, and then to just three of the 16,000-ton vessels. With the warship’s cannons being the only weapon capable of firing their specialized Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) ammunition, the cost per shell quickly spiraled out of control. What had once been envisioned by Lockheed Martin as costing $35,000 per round ballooned to nearly $1 million per round, leading the LRLAP to be abandoned, USNI reported.
Instead, the Navy decided to salvage the stealthy warship by converting it into a more standard guided missile destroyer, loading it down with 80 MK57 vertical launch tubes capable of firing a wide array of anti-air, anti-ship and anti-surface missiles. It is this new weapons system that is about to come online, four years after the Zumwalt was commissioned.
According to The Diplomat, the Zumwalt’s huge electricity output could also make it the basis of a future directed energy weapon: the ship’s integrated power system produces roughly 78 megawatts of electricity, nearly as much as a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
The Navy commissioned its second Zumwalt-class ship, the USS Michael Monsoor, in January 2019, and the final ship in the class, the USS Lyndon B. Johnson, is expected to be commissioned in 2021.