Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The U.S. Navy’s three multi-billion dollar destroyers of the Zumwalt-class will be reconfigured and re-equipped with anti-ship and surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems to allow them to do more than just bombard shore targets with their big 155 mm guns firing ammunition costing over $800,000 apiece.
The main armament Zumwalts, of which the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) is operational and the USS Michael Monsoor (DDG-1001) is in acceptance trials, are the guns of their 155 mm Advanced Gun System that can shell land targets accurately from 100 km away. Since the class was designed for shore bombardment missions, no provision was initially made for them to be equipped with offensive and defensive long-range missile systems.
China’s unrelenting aggression and the steady build-up of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) compelled Navy leaders to re-assess the Zumwalts role. All three Zumwalts, including the third and final warship, USS Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002) will be assigned to Asia as part of the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM).
The Navy has now asked Congress for funding to equip the Zumwalts with proven missiles systems to destroy enemy warships and aircraft at long-range. By the end of the decade, the Zumwalts will deploy Raytheon’s RIM-174 Standard Extended Range Active Missile (ERAM), or Standard Missile 6 (SM-6).
SM-6 can be used to shoot down fixed and rotary-wing aircraft; unmanned aerial vehicles and anti-ship cruise missiles in flight, both over sea and land. It can also be used as a high-speed anti-ship missile. It has a range of 500 km.
The Zumwalts will also be armed with Raytheon’s new Maritime Strike Tomahawk currently under development. This upgrade to the existing Tomahawk Block IV will feature an anti-ship seeker that enables it to destroy fast moving enemy warships. Maritime Strike Tomahawk is expected to achieve an initial operational capability (IOC) in fiscal year 2022.
In November 2017, the Navy decided to change the Zumwalt-class ships’ role from land-attack to anti-surface warfare say. USPACOM Commander Admiral Harry Harris told Congress that the change was motivated by the growth of the PLAN and the need for more surface warships capable of destroying PLAN destroyers and frigates at long-range.
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