Beneath the highly visible shadow of the now commissioned first-in-class stealthy USS Zumwalt destroyer, the Navy has been quietly making rapid progress with its second Zumwalt-class destroyer – the soon-to-be USS Michael Monsoor – slated for delivery as soon as March of this year.
The ship, called DDG 1001, is now 98-percent complete and preparing for builders trails this coming December, Capt. Kevin Smith, DDG 1000 Program Manager, said recently at the Surface Navy Association symposium.
Much like the lead Zumwalt-class ship, the 2nd is envisioned as a stealthy, multi-mission land and blue-water attack platform armed with long-range precision fires, a wide range of offensive and defensive missiles, faster computer processing speed and an electric drive Integrated Propulsion System with 78-megawatts of on-board electrical power.
Using the same technical baseline, ship specs and weapons system as the first Zumwalt, the Monsoor is being engineered with a computer system specifically designed to accommodate software uprades as new technologies emerge.
The ship computer, called Total Ship Computing Environment, integrates many of the ship’s systems such as its radar, weapons and propulsion apparatus. Software upgrades impacting radar, fire control and some weapons areas represent some potential
margins of difference making the ships more advanced. Accordingly, both the first and second Zumwalt will likely have some new systems by the time the Mansoor sets sail.
“We are still always learning and updating the computer programs. We will do functional and performance testing, but it is impossible to test 7-million lines of code,” Smith said.
Smith explained that the Navy has been leveraging lessons learned during the construction of the USS Zumwalt, which did experience some delays with some equipment and technology integration. In particular, the scaffolding on the ship’s composite deck and antenna integration presented some challenges, he added.
“Zumwalt was a challenge, being a first-in-class propulsion plant. A lot of the test program (for DDG 1001) is identical to what we did on the lead ship, including integration and testing of the propulsion and power system. We can tell you it is much more
efficient this time. We are not seeing the issues we saw with DDG 1000 (USS Zumwalt), it has been going much smoother,” Smith explained.
Meanwhile, the third-in-class Zumwalt, the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson, is now 71-percent complete and completing hull integration, Smith said. The 3rd Zumwalt’s deck house, which unlike the first two ships built with composites, it made out of
steel. Navy developers are now working on the ship at a land-level transfer facility and plan to put the ship in the water in a year or so, Smith said.
“We continue to work on cables. You have better access to the ship when it is on land level. There is no rush in getting this in the water anytime soon. We are using the same acquisition strategy for all three hulls,” Smith told reporters.
The USS Michael Monsoor is slated for delivery in March of 2020, the same year the USS Zumwalt is expected to be operational.
The three-ship Zumwalt fleet is likely to be in great demand in coming years as new threats emerge which present a need for its unique technologies. Given its stealthy configuration, it seems plausible that a Zumwalt class ship could lead an assault or help
launch a broader attack by virtue of an ability to strike while avoiding detection. Also, in a manner quite similar to the current fleet of DDG 51 destroyers, a Zumwalt will almost certainly help protect a carrier strike group. Drawing upon its stealthy configuration, a Zumwalt destroyer might be well positioned to test or penetrate blue-water enemy defenses without necessarily surrendering the location of a carrier group.
If radar, aerial ISR or on-board MH-60Rs and Fire Scout drone assets detect long range threats or areas of incoming enemy fire, the Zumwalt could very well be called upon as a launching point for a counterattack. With its long-range precision gunfire technology, a Zumwalt could perhaps be successful in attacking more fortified enemy land targets without itself being as susceptible to land-based sensors and anti-ship missiles. The concept with the Zumwalt’s Long Range Land Attack Projectile, or LRLAP, is to bring offensive precision and firepower well beyond the range of today’s unguided, deck-mounted 5-inch guns.
Furthermore, given its low radar signature, it might not seem like too much of a mission stretch to envision a Zumwalt-class destroy as an element of an amphibious assault. Advanced on-board sensors could connect with drones and other ISR assets to help orient an approaching Amphibious Ready Group as to the best methods or locations of attack. A Zumwalt’s shallow draft,
littoral mission abilities and long-range precision fires could, in tandem with air power, help soften land targets in preparation for an amphibious landing. In a manner not entirely unlike an LCS, a Zumwalt could access shallow water ports and other coastal areas currently inaccessible to deeper draft vessels; this changes the combat calculus in that brings substantially enhanced surface firepower to littoral operations.
At the same time, it is undoubtedly relevant to point out that, at least for the moment, will only be three Zumwalt class destroyers – a circumstance likely to limit a more ubiquitous global reach. As a result, it takes little imagination to observe how the Zumwalt-class is likely to function as an inspiration or model for other new ships and innovations, to emerge in the future, which may emulate or build upon some of its technologies.
The question of rail guns and lasers weapons, without surprise, is something which tends to generate much attention in the minds of innovators, threat assessment analysts and future planners; this is a key reason why many point to the Zumwalt’s Integrated Power System as an impactful mobile power source which, as it continues to evolve, provides the technical foundation for the integration of laser weapons.
The larger the amount of exportable, ruggedized mobile power technology, the stronger the laser. Ship-based laser weapons, it is widely discussed, are now operational. The challenge moving forward is to succeed in increasing their strength and range while accelerating its integration with radar, sensors and fire control technologies.