Navy developers of the new USS Zumwalt high-tech, stealthy destroyer are widening the mission envelope for the ship, exploring new ammunition for its guns and preparing to fire its first missile next year, service program managers said.
The new ship, engineered with a sleek, radar-evading design, was initially conceived of in terms of primarily engineering a shallow-water land attack platform. While the ship was envisioned as a multi-mission platform at its inception, current emerging threats and new technology have led Navy strategists to scope a wider strategic view for the ship.
In particular, given the rapid evolution of targeting technology and advanced long-range precision weaponry, particularly those being developed by near-peer adversaries, the strategic calculus informing maritime warfare is changing quickly.
“The aim of the ship will focus on surface strike. Long range surface ship platform in contrast to a previous look at a littoral platform able to launch suppressive fire in close to land,” Capt. Kevin Smith, DDG 1000 Program Manager, told reporters at the Surface Navy Association symposium.
Long-range strike technology, coupled with advanced seekers, electromagnetic weapons and higher-resolution sensors, quite naturally, create the need for greater stand-off ranges; such a technical phenomenon is a key element of the Navy’s current “distributed lethality” strategy designed to better prepare the Navy for modern, open blue-water combat operations against a technologically advanced adversary.
Part of the initial vision for this ship, which is still very much part of its equation, is to engineer a ship able to detect mines. For this reason, the ship has been architected with a shallow draft, enabling it to operate closer to shore than most deep water surface ships.
At the same time, threat assessment experts, strategists and Navy weapons developers also heavily emphasize the growing need for the ship to succeed in the event of major nation-state force-on-force maritime warfare.
In preparation for all of this, the ship is now going through combat activation in San Diego, Calif., to pave the way toward preparing the weapons systems for the ship’s planned move to operational status in 2020, Smith said.
This process will also carefully refine many of the ship’s other technologies, such as its advanced Integrated Power System and Total Ship Computing Environment, multi-function, volume-search SPY-3 radar and sonar systems.
The activation process for USS Zumwalt development includes calm and heavy weather examinations to further verify the ship’s stability.
The question how the ship handles and maneuvers in the water has received attention in recent years, given that it utilizes a cutting-edge, wave-piercing Tumblehome Hull technology for increased performance in certain key respects. Some observers and news reports have raised the question, citing various sea states and structural nuances, that the hull might not be able to achieve the requisite amount stability needed for a full range of mission sets.
At the same time, many ship developers – including its former Commanding Officer - say the ship’s developmental performance has inspired great confidence and also solidified the pathway toward an as-of-yet unprecedented seapower platform.
In fact, during its transit from the East Coast to San Diego for ship activation, former ship CO Capt. James Kirk had occasion to closely direct and monitor the ships movements and handling characteristics.
“The ship did well in all the sea conditions we experienced. The ship has a different sailing envelope than a flared hull. Our calm and heavy weather trials will help fill in some gaps,” Kirk said.
USS Zumwalt Stealthy Configuration
The USS Zumwalt, described by Smith as a first-of-its-kind vessel, is expected to bring ground-breaking maritime radar evading technology to combat.
Although one might not typically think of destroyers and stealth together, the contours of the hull and deck have been engineered to substantially lower its radar signature.
“The shape of the superstructure and the arrangement of its antennas significantly reduce radar cross section, making the ship less visible to enemy radar at sea,” a Navy statement said.
Several reports have indicated that ships off the coast of Maine recently thought the DDG 1000 was a small fishing boat due to its
stealthy design. That is precisely the intent of the ship – it seeks to penetrate enemy areas, delivery lethal attack while remaining undetected by enemy radar. Lower observability can also reduce risk to the ship in open, deep water as it will make it less vulnerable to detection by enemy aircraft or anti-ship guided missiles.
USS Zumwalt Fires First Missile - 2019
As part of the combat activation process, the USS Zumwalt will fire its first missile next year, Smith said.
Smith said first weapons to fire from the Mk 57 vertical launch tubes will be the ship defensive weapons called the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile and the Standard Missile 2, or SM-2.
Smith said many of the weapons systems are being assessed and refined on board a specially configured unmanned test ship.
The remote- controlled vessel continues to be involved in integration testing with the SM-2 and other weapons. In fact, Smith acknowledged that the Navy is currently evaluating potential SM-6 integration for the USS Zumwalt.
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. In addition, 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. Wade Knudson, DDG 100o program manager, Raytheon, told Warrior in an interview last year.
The ship is also built with Mk 57 a vertical launch tubes which are engineered into the hull near the perimeter of
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 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, Knudson added.
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 for, among other things, cost issues, Smith said.
“We are looking at high-velocity projectiles to get the ranges we want. We are watching industry to see what they come up
with. We are looking hard at what is the best technology to give to the guns,” Smith said.
In 2016, the new ship was formally delivered to the Navy at Bath Iron Works in Portland, Maine. The ship was formally commissioned in October of that year.