Navy Prepares Stealthy Zumwalt for New Lasers, Missiles & Guns

Kris Osborn

Warrior Video Above: USS Zumwalt Commander Capt. Carlson Describes Riding the Stealthy Ship in Stormy Seas

By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

(Washington, D.C.) Lasers, global strike weapons, hypervelocity projectiles, maneuvering Tomahawk missiles and precision-guided deck-mounted guns… are all part of the Navy’s design for its new stealthy warship… the USS Zumwalt.

The first-of-its-kind ship, on the fast-track to operational status by just next year, was designed for the specific purpose of integrating these kinds of future maritime attack weapons. With this in mind, the Navy has been working on combat activation with the ship, live-fire exercises and technical preparations for new weapons.

These weapons, according to Zumwalt Program Manager Capt. Kevin Smith, include the Maritime Strike Tomahawk, SM-6 missile, a Tactical Common Data Link to network helicopters with surface ships and the possible integration of new long-range precision rounds for its 5-inch guns.

“We are now learning how to fight with the ship and taking it out on patrols,” Smith said in January at the Surface Navy Association Symposium, Arlington, Va.

Laser weapons, which are already operational on Navy surface ships, are also part of the plan for the Zumwalt, as it was engineered with an Integrated Power System electric drive. This not only brings quieter, stealthier, more efficient propulsion to the ship with 78-megawatt generators but also enables a level of on-board power necessary for lasers.

“Right now there is a lot of development going on with lasers, including work on a road map that goes out into the future. We have space, weight and power on this ship class to incorporate that kind of capability in the future,” Smith said.

The Tomahawk missile has been an effective attack weapon for decades, providing the technical basis for the Navy's current effort to fast-track the Maritime Strike Tomahawk. This new weapon takes the existing Block IV Tomahawk to a new level by adding new seeker and guidance technology - enabling the weapon to hit moving targets at sea. This is a substantial step forward in attack capability, as it will give sea commanders the option to hit enemy ships on the move from hundreds of miles away. The existing Tomahawk, while armed with GPS guidance, a 900-mile range, drone-like loitering ability and two-way targeting data link is used as a way to attack fixed targets such as enemy buildings, command and control or other facilities.

The USS Zumwalt is built with a high-tech, long-range, BAE-built Advanced Gun System designed to find and hit targets with precision from much farther ranges than existing deck-mounted ship guns.

Most deck mounted 5-inch guns currently on Navy ships are limited to firing roughly 8-to-10 miles at targets within the horizon or what’s called line of sight. The Advanced Gun System, however, is being developed to fire rounds beyond-the-horizon at targets more than three times that distance.

The Navy had been planning to have the gun fire a Long-Range Land Attack Projectile, but is now exploring different ammunition options.

“The guns are in lay up, we are still looking at other options,” Smith said, adding that the ship might wind up firing the hypervelocity projectile originally developed for an electromagnetic rail gun.

Smith added that the USS Zumwalt is now configured to fire the SM-6 missile. The SM-6 has been a fast-evolving weapon for the Navy – as it has expanded its mission envelope to include air-defense, ballistic missile defense and even offensive use as an anti-ship surface attack weapon. Utilizing its active seeker, the SM-6 is a key part of Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air, or NIFC-CA; NIFC-CA uses fire-control technology to link Aegis radar with an airborne relay sensor to detect and destroy approaching enemy threats from beyond the horizon.

With an active, dual-mode seeker able to send an electromagnetic “ping” forward from the missile itself, the SM-6 is able to better adjust to moving targets. Giving commanders more decision-making time to effectively utilize layered ship defenses when under attack is an integral part of the rationale for NIFC-CA.

The ship also fires Vertical Launch Anti-Submarine Rockets, or ASROCs. ASROCs are 16-feet long with a 14-inch diameter; a rocket delivers the torpedo at very high speeds to a specific point in the water at which point it turns on its sensors and searches for an enemy submarine, Raytheon weapons developers have explained.

The ship is also built with Mk 57 a vertical launch tubes which are engineered into the hull near the perimeter of the ship.

Called Peripheral Vertical Launch System, the tubes are integrated with the hull around the ship’s periphery in order to ensure that weapons can keep firing in the event of damage. Instead of having all of the launch tubes in succession or near one another, the DDG 1000 has spread them out in order to mitigate risk in the event of attack, developers said.

In total, there are 80 launch tubes built into the hull of the DDG 1000; the Peripheral Vertical Launch System involves a collaborative effort between Raytheon and BAE Systems.

Also, the launchers are especially designed with software such that it can accommodate a wide range of weapons; the launchers can house one SM-2, SM-3 or SM-6, ASROCs and up to four ESSMs due to the missile’s smaller diameter, Raytheon developers explain.

Smith also said the Zumwalt would be a great platform for the Conventional Prompt Strike weapon. The Conventional Prompt Strike weapons program, emerging during former President George W. Bush era, is designed to arm a ballistic missile with a conventional warhead, bringing the range and speed similar to a nuclear weapon to conventional strike. The weapon has virtually unprecedented range for a conventional weapon and has the ability to hit anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes in some instances. The concept with the weapon is to enable fast attack against enemy targets from safe standoff distances quickly, potentially at the beginning of a conflict. This would enable rapid attack without forcing having to wait for deployment options or place vital war assets in closer range of enemy attack. In essence, should a conflict quickly break out, CPS will give command authority a “rapid hit” option to possibly deter further war or destroy crucial enemy targets with “tactical surprise.”

“The USS Zumwalt is designed to be stealthy and carry the fight to the adversary,” Smith said.

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Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army - Acquisition, Logistics& Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

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--- Kris Osborn, Managing Editor ofWARRIORMAVEN (CLICK HERE) can be reached atkrisosborn.ko@gmail.com--

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