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    HomeMilitaryU.S. Navy's Zumwalt Destroyers: Stealth Giants' Uncertain Future

    U.S. Navy’s Zumwalt Destroyers: Stealth Giants’ Uncertain Future

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    USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) arrives at its new homeport in San Diego.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Amid the shimmer of the sea and the ambition to dominate the waters, an enigma called Zumwalt lurks—a trio of U.S. Navy destroyers.

    USS Zumwalt” by Me in ME is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Seven and a half years post-commissioning, the Zumwalt-class remains a fleet-in-waiting, cloaked more in potential than in action.

    USS Zumwalt” by Me in ME is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The USS Zumwalt, the lead ship of its class, recently made a significant pivot away from its original gunship design.

    USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) conducts a live-fire missile exercise.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    In Pascagoula, Mississippi, its gun mounts were removed and replaced with vertical launch cells designed to house a dozen hypersonic missiles—weapons flying at Mach 5 or above, maneuverable enough to dodge defensive fire.

    USS Zumwalt departs Bath, Maine to conduct acceptance trials.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Part of the Conventional Prompt Strike program, these missiles are a shared venture with the Army’s Long Range Hypersonic Weapon program, creating a “common hypersonic glide body.”

    USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) departs San Diego as part of an operational underway.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    However, cutting-edge technology does not adhere to deadlines. With the hypersonic weapon system still in development, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has raised doubts about the maturity of the ship’s technologies.

    USS Zumwalt is on the final leg of its three-month journey to its new homeport in San Diego.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The GAO report highlighted the potential delay in integrating these weapons if they’re not ready before the USS Zumwalt’s current maintenance period ends.

    USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) sits pierside while participating in San Francisco Fleet Week 2019.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    As a consequence, naval officials face a dilemma: either field a capable but incomplete destroyer on time or await the armament’s readiness, however long it may take.

    USS Zumwalt” by Me in ME is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Despite the uncertainty, a backfit by Huntington Ingalls Industries aims for completion by 2025, a year that will see the Zumwalt nearing a decade in age—no minor fraction of its service life.

    USS Zumwalt in Baltimore” by cmfgu is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Initially envisioned as a shore bombardment asset, the repurposed Zumwalt now turns its gaze to the sea, realigning with the navy’s traditional focus on maritime supremacy.

    USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000)” by Ken H / @chippyho is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    Reinventing the Zumwalt class signifies a return to a previous, more vigilant, and robust approach to naval warfare.

    USS ZUMWALT (DDG 1000)” by TimWebb is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    Specifically, the ocean is never a secure offshore refuge for an extended period. Eventually, a new adversary will emerge, bringing the threat of maritime conflict.

    PCU Zumwalt” by sjrankin is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    But reinvention comes at a steep cost. The GAO estimates each Zumwalt at a staggering $9.7 billion in FY 2023 dollars.

    An MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter flies by USS Zumwalt” by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    The class’s exorbitant price tag and limited numbers could breed a hesitancy in commanders to commit these vessels to combat—potentially undermining their purpose as deterrents and defenders.

    Zumwalt (DDG 1000) arrives at Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The true test lies ahead. The Zumwalt class must transcend its developmental hurdles and cost concerns to prove its value in a theatre where geopolitical tensions simmer and the specter of naval conflict looms.

    Relevant articles:
    Zumwalt-Class Stealth Destroyer: Hypersonic Missile Truck or Giant Failure?, The National Interest

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