So, Elizzar asked in the comments from yesterday’s links post:

what about the zumwalt class, do you think they should be axed now (i do)?

I’m actually far less critical of the DDG-1000 USS Zumwalt than I am of the Littoral Combat Ship program.

The DDG-1000 is expensive. Let’s be honest and admit it, the cost is stupendous.  But there are some major differences between this program and LCS.

For one thing, LCS is actually two, TWO programs in one. Two ships, completely different designs, combat systems, training programs, maintenance and training pipelines, you name it. Even if either iteration of LCS was all that and a bag of chips, the dual track nature of the program is still terribly wasteful, duplicating costs while providing no discernable benefit.

I find it interesting that LCS started kinda sorta as a research project and has evolved into a full blown production program. DDG-1000 started as a full blown production program, but has since been scaled back to something akin to a long term research program.

Both the LCS and the DDG-1000 programs use a lot of new, untested technologies. But whereas the LCS program sometimes seems to have been a case where new ideas were tossed in just because, in the DDG-1000 program, the new technologies were inserted to fulfill specific requirements.  Whether those choices were right and proper is certainly debatable, but there was at least a thought process involved.

For you non-naval types, let’s take a brief look at the Zumwalt.


Click to embiggenfy

While the DDG-1000 is classified as a Destroyer, it is far larger than any previous destroyer in the world, and larger than many cruisers. The radical tumblehome hull form was adopted for stealth characteristics. Same thing with the weird looking composite deckhouse. It’s made of composites sandwiched around balsa wood.

The new Multifunction Radar (MFR) and Dual Band Radar DBR) were designed to operate more effectively in the littorals, which have a huge amount of radar clutter.

The Integrated Power System means the main powerplant no longer drives the screw shafts, but is a large electrical generation plant. Electric motors drive the screws. That adds costs and complexity to the design, but also has some benefits. With the incredible proliferation of electronics aboard warships, older designs can become power critical, with Ships Service Turbine Generators unable to provide the margin needed. By integrating the entire plant, the ship will have plenty of generation capacity. It also provides some level of graceful degradation in a damage control sense. Any part of the generation system can power either shaft.

The Total Ship Computing Environment is  a reflection 0f the fact that the last series of Destroyers, the DDG-51 class, was designed before the personal computer revolution. Yes, ships did have computers, especially for applications such as NTDS, but the idea of virtually everything being networked was far, far in the future.

The Peripheral Vertical Launch System addresses a weakness of the current Mk41 VLS. As a single unit, if any  part of the Mk41 is damaged, the whole system is likely unavailable, cutting a ship’s firepower in half or more. And should a Mk41 explode, being on the centerline, there’s a goodly chance it would break the ship’s keel, and lead to the loss of the ship. The Mk57 PVLS uses several modules mounted away from the ship’s centerline. The loss of any one would be bad, but not catastrophic. Similarly, an explosion in one would vent outboard, and while would be very bad, would be far less likely to lead to the loss of the ship.

The 155mm Advanced Gun System is a recognition that the 5”/62 gun on major US warships is really not much of a weapon when it comes to supporting Marine maneuver on the ground.

All of these innovations are expensive. But the history of warship design suggests strongly that many of them will become the normal technique for shipbuilding in coming generations.  Will some be mere historical curiosities? Likely, yes. But many more will likely be normal.

Further, where the LCS program bought a hull and propulsion system, and then tried to design innovative technologies alongside, the DDG-1K has developed and tested prototypes of most of the technologies before ever cutting ship steel. There have certainly been technical issues with some of the components, but it’s a lot easier to fix a design before you install it on a ship.

The stupendous budget for DDG-1000 has mostly been in the research and development of the underlying innovations. Yes, the ship itself is painfully expensive, but not by the orders of magnitude you might think looking at the raw budget numbers.  And the lessons learned developing the technologies is corporate knowledge that will stay with the Navy.

Programmatically,  the program has been almost a poster child for effective program management when compared to the utter “dumpster fire” that LCS has been.

So while I’m not a huge fan of DDG-1000, and think quite a few of the underlying assumptions behind the program are flawed, I’m not terribly keen to see it cancelled. I think as the three ships enter the fleet and become something akin to operational testbeds, they’ll serve as interesting and useful think tanks to advance naval science.

5 thoughts on “Zumwalt”

  1. If the Zumwalts had been proposed as test beds it would be fine, but from what I could tell, they weren’t. LCS wasn’t either. Roughead and Mullen were morons to see them as anything else, but they pretty much removed all doubt on that score. Revolutions rarely succeed in their stated aims simply because they tend to uncover problems that lead to failure when they aren’t accounted for in the design process. Some of those problems are not solvable.

  2. If the USS Porter (DDG-78) had been equipped with the peripheral VLS, what would have happened during her recent collision with the supertanker MV Otowasan?

    There is well over 100 years of combat-based data on the need to protect munitions, usually centerline and deep within the ship. I’ll bet we are not adding armor around those VL cells. It may be just me, but without more details this appears to be a very bad idea.

    1. i’ve not researched this, it’s an off the top of my head comment, but isn’t this also true of the USS Cole (i think?) attack in the 90s – if missiles had been located on the sides they would potentially have been hit by the suicide boat – sorry my memory of the incident is a bit hazy!

    2. The Cole was hit midships, at the waterline adjacent to the main engineering spaces. ISTR. No VLS involvement in that particular case.

      1. It’s still a fairly valid question. I think the intent is to be similar to the ammo storage on the M1A1, which has blast vent panels above on the turret roof. An explosion vents away from the troop compartment.

        The Mk57PVLS has a different scheme, I’m sure, but is intended to vent away from the core of the hull.

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