Why The Zumwalt Destroyer Never Fired Its Most Powerful Weapon – HotCars


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The Zumwalt class is a fascinating and unique class of the US Navy that contains three guided missile destroyers with stealth capabilities. One of its most iconic characteristic is its price, as the military vessel is the most expensive destroyer ever made and remains one of the most expensive warships in general. The cost per unit, including research and development, is almost $7.5 billion. With such a high cost, it's no wonder that Zumwalt received so much criticism. Most of this criticism regards one of the most promising features of the Zumwalt, the Advanced Gun System, a weapon that will never fire.

Why The Zumwalt Is So Expensive

Zumwalt Destroyer

Via: United States Navy

Zumwalt class destroyers are the newest generation destroyers of the US Navy that in battlefield perform mainly for land attacks and can serve as multi-missions stealth combat ships. The vessels carry the most modern systems and technologies of the military industry, with countless automations in order to reduce the necessary crew members. The three ships of the class are the Zumwalt, the Michael Monsoor and the Lyndon B. Johnson.

Although the ships are almost 40% larger than the Arleigh Burke class, due to their reduced radar cross-section, the ships of the class are really stealthy compared to any other destroyers. The vessel also feature low acoustic signature, reduced infrared signature and other features that make spotting Zumwalt a hard task for the enemy radars.

Other significant technologies of the Zumwalt vessels are the Raytheon Missiles & Defense technologies and equipment, the Total Ship Computing Environment network, the Electronic Modular Enclosures, the Integrated Undersea Warfare System, and even more. The main sensors are the AN/SPY-3 multi-function radar that is a top class system with proved capabilities. The destroyers have a top speed of 30 knots and carry weapons such as the MK57 Vertical Launching System with 80 cells that can fire the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles and other advanced weapons. We should not forget the two Advanced Gun System turrets that each ship has. Last but not least, the ship can carry one SH-60 LAMPS or one MH-60R helicopter or three MQ-8 Fire Scout VT-UAVs.

The Zumwalt class is a really expensive class of warships because of the expensive equipment, systems, and armaments that it carries. The whole program costed almost 22.5 billion dollars to the US army, an amount really impressive even for a top class stealth destroyer like Zumwalt. To have a clearer look, consider that the most expensive warship ever created, the enormous Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier of the US Navy, costing almost $13.3 billion. That means that each destroyer of the Zumwalt class cost half the price of arguably the greatest carrier ever made.

The Advance Gun System Problem

Zumwalt with other ships

Via: Petty Officer 1st Class Ace Rheaume, U.S. Navy

One of the most important features of the Zumwalt class that cost a lot of money to the US Army is that the Advanced Gun System never worked. The AGS is a naval artillery system that provides long range naval gunfire support against land targets. Each Zumwalt destroyers have two systems in place that fire 155 mm caliber. The place of the two AGS turrets is in the forward hull, and the two turrets move in internal space when are inactive. The range of the systems is almost 37 to 62 miles. But, what happened? Why did the system never really work?

Let's take things from the start: the Advanced Gun System is a unique naval system built for the Zumwalt class destroyers. The system would use the one-of-a-kind Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) ammunition that fit only the AGS and the Zumwalt ships. However, while developing these extended-range GPS-guided shells, the cost reached $800,000 to $1 million per unit. The US Army then decided to cancel the whole program due to this high cost per unit, and the AGS became inactive since then as it has no ammunition to fire. A lot of ideas to replace the AGS have been in the air, but nothing is formal since 2021.

In the previous year, the US Navy announced that it would replace every 155 AGS turret with Hypersonic missiles instead. The Vertical Launch System will fire the Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) Hypersonic missiles, and the first of these missiles will equip the Ohio class guided missiles submarines in 2025. The US Army will get a hand on these weapons around 2023. The capabilities of the CPS feature a speed greater of Mach 5and a ranger longer than 1,700 miles.

However, the missile is not small enough to fit in the MK 57 VLS of the Zumwalt destroyers. That's why the CPS Hypersonic Missiles will need a new launching system that will replace the AGS systems and will begin to build in 2024. The CPS seems like a great fit for such ships, as the hypersonic weapons are the most dangerous threats of the modern era.

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Georgios Mavridis
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