In the 2000s, the DDG-1000 Zumwalt stealth destroyer was the first of the US Navy’s next generation destroyers, equipped with futuristic technology.
The first ship, the USS Zumwalt, had a sci-fi-like design, with a larger submerged hull than the superstructure, which reduced the ship’s radar cross-section, equivalent of a small fishing boat. The ship has a displacement of up to 15.656 long tons, can reach a maximum speed of up to 30 knots.
In terms of armament, in addition to two electromagnetic cannons, the Zumwalt is equipped with 80 cells Mark 57 VLS launchers. These launchers are compatible with Tomahawk ground-attack cruise missiles, ASROC anti-submarine missiles, or four Sea Sparrow medium-range air defense missiles.
Zumwalt’s spacious flight deck and hangar can accommodate up to three MQ-8B Fire Scout UAVs or two MH-60R helicopters, armed with Hellfire anti-tank missiles or torpedoes. In addition, Zumwalt is also equipped with a dual-band sonar, capable of hunting submarines, but lacks torpedoes like the Arleigh Burke destroyer. Zumwalt’s required crew was much less than that of an Arleigh-Burke destroyer. However, this led to concerns that, with a crew so small, it would not be enough in the event of combat damage.
By 2008, a new challenge for the US military, China’s rapidly growing surface ships, submarines, cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles. Worse, the electromagnetic cannon on Zumwalt could not be put into use, because it was too complicated in technology. GPS-guided LRLAP projectiles cost up to $800,000 each, about the same as a Tomahawk cruise missile. In the end, the US Navy had to remove two electromagnetic cannons on Zumwalt.
Although a revolutionary weapon, but the cost was too expensive, the program had to be cancelled. In 2008, the US Navy only agreed to build two Zumwalts. In an attempt to save the project, a third ship, the Lyndon B. Johnson, was launched in 2018.
Each Zumwalt costs about $4.5 billion, not including $10 billion in development costs. Like the F-35 and the Littoral Combat Ship, the Zumwalt’s rising cost is due to the Navy’s ambition to integrate completely new unproven technologies. As a result, the Zumwalt broke down while sailing through the Panama Canal in November 2016.
A solution to reduce costs is applied; instead of using the powerful SPY-4 radar, it will be replaced with the SPY-3 radar. This replacement saved $80 million per ship, but the air search capability was significantly reduced. Although Zumwalt’s VLS launchers are compatible with a wide range of US Navy missiles; these missiles, however, are dependent on the “Aegis Combat System”, which Zumwalt does not equip. Zumwalt’s Close-in weapon system, which was downgraded from the 57 mm cannons to the 30 mm cannons with much less performance.
Will three Zumwalt-class destroyers help increase the US Navy’s combat capability? No, it is simply that these warships have so far lacked weapons, anti-ship missiles, anti-submarine torpedoes and long-range anti-aircraft missiles. Zumwalt has even fewer missile launchers than Arleigh-Burke-class destroyers, Ticonderoga-class cruisers, or Ohio-class attack submarines. But these warships are all cheaper, and even the Ohio-class submarines have more secret capabilities than the Zumwalt.