US Navy Looking for New Radar to Plug Holes in Truncated Zumwalt Destroyer’s Abilities

© AP Photo / Robert F. Bukaty / The future USS Zumwalt heads down the Kennebec River after leaving Bath Iron Works Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, in Bath, Maine
The future USS Zumwalt heads down the Kennebec River after leaving Bath Iron Works Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016, in Bath, Maine - Sputnik International
Years ago, the US Navy made the hard decision to eliminate one of the stealthy USS Zumwalt’s search radars as part of a cost-saving move. Now the service wants that capability back, but it isn’t simply attaching the canceled radar, it’s looking for a whole new system.

Observers could be forgiven for getting whiplash from the US Navy’s DDG-1000 program, the service’s effort to build the huge, stealthy destroyer of the future. What started out as a class of 32 ships - each of which would replace two batteries of land-based howitzers and would have more than two dozen more missile launch tubes than the present Arleigh Burke-class destroyers - was watered down to three warships that were for years without an able combat system after the main guns were canceled to save money.

Along the way, the Zumwalt’s powerful Dual Band Radar (DBR) got the axe too, with one of the arrays, an AN/SPY-4 S-band long-range search radar, being removed from the ship in 2010 since it was a bit too costly and a bit too experimental to meet strict budget justifications at the time. That left it with just the AN/SPY-3, an X-band emitter already in use on several other US Navy warships that was plenty capable, but far from what the Navy had envisioned for the Zumwalt class.

Now, however, the Navy wants that lost capability back, according to a spokesperson for Naval Sea Systems Command who spoke to The Drive’s The War Zone on October 15. “The Navy is exploring several alternatives to sustain air and surface search capability aboard the Zumwalt-class ships,” the spokesperson said, noting that “no decision has been made at this time" about whether or not they will add a new radar, or which it would be.

While the Zumwalt didn’t get the DBR setup, the new aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford has, as will its sister ship, the USS Enterprise. However, subsequent Ford-class ships won’t have the setup, instead using a new AN/SPY-6(V)3 radar, also simply called the Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR). The Navy plans on putting the AMDR on a variety of upcoming ships, including amphibious assault ships and landing docks and even the new missile frigate, the USS Constellation, announced last week. According to The Drive, this radar could also find a new home on the Zumwalt, but there are many other possibilities, too.

Patching up the Zumwalt’s hamstrung capabilities has proven challenging: originally proposed in 1992, the warship’s keel wasn’t laid down until 2011 and the warship wasn’t commissioned until 2016. As of 2020, it hasn’t performed a single mission, having only received its missile combat system in March and a 30-millimeter deck gun in May. Not a great record for the world’s largest cruiser.

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