ComNavOps will now amaze and astound you by answering a question before it is asked (apologies to
Carnac the Magnificent). The question has been kept in a guarded and hermetically sealed envelope and is completely unknown to ComNavOps. Only ComNavOps’ all-seeing and all-knowing military knowledge and expertise could possibly allow him to divine the answer prior to knowing the question.
The answer is,
There you have it. The answer is 35. But what does it mean? Let’s open the envelope and see what the question is.
The question is,
How many rounds must be test fired to certify the maturity and performance of the Zumwalt Advanced Gun System (AGS)?
Boo! Hiss. That’s wrong. No way. Boo!
Alright, calm down. I admit the answer seems way too small. A mere 35 rounds isn’t nearly enough to demonstrate the maturity and performance of a brand new, major gun system. Could ComNavOps have answered incorrectly? I mean, not knowing the question at the time of the answer would ensure that any mere mortal would only have a 1 in a gazillion chance of answering correctly. Still, ComNavOps is far superior to normal men. Let’s see if ComNavOps is wrong.
A search for announcements about AGS test firings reveals the following events over the past several years.
June 2005 – 1 round, 59 miles
Aug 2011 – 2 rounds, 45 miles
Aug 2012 – 4 rounds
June 2013 – 4 rounds, 45 miles
Sep 2013 – 9 rounds, 45 miles, demonstrated multiple round simultaneous impact (MRSI)
Wow! That’s really not many test rounds fired. Maybe I missed some announcements or maybe there were a ton of test firings that just weren’t publicized.
Well, note this comment, reported after the Jun 2013 test (1),
“ 'These tests bring us closer to completing the 35 tests required by the U.S. Navy to demonstrate the maturity and performance of the system,' said Richard Benton, LRLAP program manager at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control."
Well, that seems to pin it down. There are only 35 test rounds (each round is considered a “test”) required to demonstrate the performance and maturity of the AGS. So, ComNavOps’ answer was right! That’s an amazing demonstration of clairvoyant and prescient knowledge. All right, back to the AGS.
Seriously, does anyone consider 35 rounds, broken up in very small groups over a several year period, to be a demonstration of the performance or maturity of the system?
Note that with one documented exception, all the test firings were at a range of 45 miles. The AGS, you’ll recall, is claimed to be able to hit targets at 70+ miles with pinpoint accuracy. Well, how do we know it will really do that since we haven’t tried it yet? What’s the sustained firing performance like? How will accuracy be affected as a function of sustained firing? We have no idea since we haven’t tried it.
System maturity? With only 35 rounds? How does 35 rounds fired over the course of a few years tell us anything about the maturity of the system? That doesn’t tell us anything about the required maintenance, systemic problems, mean time between failures, material fatigue, barrel and system longevity, or anything else that might describe the maturity of the system.
Why is the threshold for acceptance so low? I don’t know. I do note, however, that the rounds are reported to cost $35,000 - $50,000 each depending on the source. I suspect that with that kind of cost, the Navy is simply cutting the testing woefully short to save money.
If 35 rounds is the limit for testing of the system, you have to wonder how many rounds, if any, an operational ship will be allowed to fire during the course of a year for normal training. I suspect we’re going to have operators who will come and go from the ship without ever firing a round.
Do we really want to wait for actual combat to tell us what’s wrong with the AGS rather than spend a little bit of money and find out now? For the cost of one stinking LCS we could fire 14,000 rounds. Isn’t a thorough evaluation of the Zumwalt’s main armament worth building one less useless LCS? If you don’t want to sacrifice an LCS, we could fire 5700 rounds for the loss of one F-35C.
We’re pouring money into the black hole, money pits of useless programs but we won’t even thoroughly test the AGS?
On a related note, is it possible that one of the lessons to be learned from this is that when your weapons become too expensive to routinely test and train with you may be hurting yourself more than helping?
Are we really going to send sailors into combat with a gun that’s only been fired 35 times?