The last I knew of the DDG-1000 Zumwalt, our planned next generation of destroyers, the program had been canceled. I just noticed that this effort has been restored and the first ship of the planned three vessel series was floated in October of last year.
The United States currently has three types of surface combatants that do escort duty with Carrier Strike Groups and Expeditionary Strike Groups.
Oliver Hazard Perry Class FFG
The Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates are a 4,100 ton displacement escort developed in the 1970s to replace World War II vintage destroyers. We built 71 and 13 remain in service. Their duties range from mine sweeping to anti-aircraft protection for other vessels.
Arleigh Burke Class DDG-51
The Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer are the fleet’s workhorse escort. There are three sub-types or ‘flights’ among the 62 vessels, which we began launching in 1989, all of which are still in service. Depending on the flight they displace between 8,300 tons and 9,800 tons. Armament includes 20mm Phalanx anti-missile system, 25mm Bushmaster for small surface threats and mines, and 5″ lightweight guns for long range bombardment.
Port Royale CG-73 Ticonderoga Class
Designed and Constructed between the Oliver Hazard Perry Frigtes and the Arleigh Burke Destroyers, the Ticonderoga class guided missile cruisers used the Spruance class destroyer hull and displaced just 9,600 tons. These were the first ship to be classified as a cruiser without having multiple dual or triple gun turrets and weapons of 6″ or larger caliber. The first five had twin arm missile carriers and were retired to home waters duty fairly quickly, while the 22 more capable ships with vertical launch systems remain in service today.
As our first 21st century surface combatant the DDG-1000 Zumwalt offers a number of interesting advances over its predecessors. Displacing 14,500 tons, they are nearly as large as our last gun cruiser, the Des Moines class, but radar return is reportedly similar to a fishing boat 1% of their size. The crew of 142 is half the size of the Arleigh Burke and Ticonderoga class ships.
The Zumwalt’s 80 vertical launch cells are less numerous than the Arleigh Burke (90 or 96) or the Ticonderoga (122) but they support missiles with 45% more ‘rocket motor mass flow rate’. I am unsure how to translate that into added thrust or payload, but the Zumwalt’s VLS is ready for longer range missiles we’ve not yet built. The reduced missile count doesn’t mean reduced ship capacity thanks to the presence of the Advanced Gun System.
The current 5″ lightweight gun employs a 20 round magazine and an autoloader to deliver a 70 pound conventional shell at distances of up to 23 miles. A World War II sailor would be impressed with the range and the ability to deliver 20 rounds in a minute, but they would find the work of the six man gun crew very familiar. The AGS would be utterly foreign to them, offering tremendous advances which include:
- Automated handling of up to 600 rounds
- Water cooled for continuous firing & improved barrel life
- 155mm shell (50% more mass than current 5″ gun)
- Smart ammunition
There isn’t much information available on the AGS via Wikipedia, but the literature on 155mm land artillery is instructive. Base bleed shells offer a 30% range increase over conventional rounds and glide capable shells push the range to 25 miles. The AGS round is apparently capable of reaching out almost 70 miles.
A conventional shell fired from 25 miles is unlikely to hit the correct city block. Field experience in Iraq indicate that there is a good probability that a smart round will hit the correct room in a given house – 90%+ will fall within four meters of their intended destination. The SMArt 155 delivers a pair of smart explosive formed penetrators that can easily take out a T-72 tank. This video shows a similar system in operation.
The DDG-1000 packs a pair of AGS and a trio of MQ-8 Fire Scout drones. These helicopter UAVs can linger for three hours at the extreme range of a gun system with pinpoint accuracy against fixed and mobile armored targets. Putting this in terms World War II history buffs will understand, one Zumwalt, one full, fresh Panzer division approaching the Normandy beachhead, one hour fire mission. 75% or higher loss rate for the armor. And they could do this from up to forty miles beyond the range of the largest shore defense guns in the area, 340mm naval guns salvaged from the French battleship Provence.
The U.S. Congress greatly extended the lives of the Iowa class battleships, returning them to service for Vietnam in the 1960s, Lebanon in the 1980s, and Desert Storm in the early 1990s, specifically citing their shore bombardment capability. The Zumwalt is the first shore bombardment capable ship we’ve launched since the U.S.S. Newport News, sixty five years ago.
I would prefer from a policy perspective that we focus on proactive diplomatic problem solving rather than reactive interventions, but there are some problems which require direct, forceful action. On those occasions when we must deploy an Expeditionary Strike Group, the Zumwalt will be a significant upgrade over our current destroyers and cruisers.