The Navy's Stealthy USS Zumwalt Will Fire its First Missile Next Year

The US Navy’s stealthy destroyer will fire an Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile and SM-2 in 2019

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By Kris Osborn

Navy developers of the new high-tech, stealthy USS Zumwalt destroyer are widening the mission envelope for the ship, exploring new ammunition for its guns and preparing to fire its first missiles next year.

The US Navy’s stealthy destroyer will fire an Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile and SM-2 in 2019 from its Mk 57 Vertical Launch Systems, marking the first time the new ship will fire weapons as part of its ongoing combat activation process.

The Navy is exploring a new range of weapons for its stealthy USS Zumwalt destroyer to better prepare the ship for future warfare against technically advanced enemies.

“The Navy is in the process of updating required documents to support new surface strike requirements,” according to Navy statements briefed at the service’s Sea Air and Space Annual Symposium by Zumwalt program manager Capt. Kevin Smith.

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.

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, Navy officials say.

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 many technology assessments, such as calm and heavy weather examinations to further verify the ship’s stability.

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.

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, Navy leaders said.

The Navy is also 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, according to Raytheon developers.

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 1000 program manager, Raytheon, has told Warrior in recent years through the course of several interviews.

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.

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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.

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.

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Kris Osborn can be reached at Krisosborn.ko@gmail.com

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