The Navy recently cancelled the Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) that was the sole ammunition for the Zumwalt’s 155 mm Advanced Gun System (AGS). We’ve previously discussed the utter stupidity of designing an entire gun system that is totally incompatible with any other military munition and is dependent on a single, unique, expensive rocket assisted shell. That lack of commonality turned around and bit the Navy in the ass when they cancelled the LRLAP program due to runaway costs. Now they have a gun with no munition.
There are only two options:
- Rip out the AGS and install a conventional gun or missile system. Interestingly, the Zumwalt, with its cruiser size dimensions, might be able to accommodate the 8” Mk 71 and still fulfill its land attack mission albeit with reduced ranges (around 18 miles with standard rounds – an extended range guided round was proposed but not developed). Alternatively, the AGS could be replaced with standard VLS cells and Tomahawk missiles, however, this makes the “round” just as expensive as the cancelled LRLAP.
- Adapt some other munition to the AGS.
The Navy has selected option 2. and the chosen munition appears to be the Army’s 155 mm Excalibur round. Excalibur is a GPS guided, gliding projectile.
|LRLAP - Too Expensive To Use|
On the positive side, this brings the Zumwalt/AGS into line with the rest of the military’s 155 mm weapons and may allow the Zumwalt/AGS to use the Army inventory of 155 mm shells.
On the minus side, a host of problems must be overcome.
- The AGS will have to be adapted to fire the Excalibur round. This will likely cost hundreds of millions of dollars and probably take several years to accomplish.
“One defense official told USNI News it might take up to $250 million in engineering costs to modify the three ship class for Excalibur.” (1)
You know those kind of off-the-cuff cost estimates are always ridiculously low.
Additionally, it’s not just the gun barrel that has to be modified but the entire gun and munition handling system. The Zumwalt was, literally, built around the AGS and its munition handling system which was precisely sized for the LRLAP. Manual handling is not even an option without extensive modifications because the system was designed from scratch to be fully automated.
- The AGS’ selling point was the extended range of the rocket munition. The Excalibur, lacking a rocket assist and dependent only on gliding fins for its range, doesn’t even come close to the LRLAP.
“The GPS-guided round – developed by Raytheon and BAE-Systems Bofors – has about half the range of the 60-mile LRLAP ...” (1)
DOT&E cites a range for the Excalibur 1a-2 of 25 miles (40 km) (2). Of course, this almost invalidates the Zumwalt’s reason for being!
- While less expensive than the LRLAP it will replace, the Excalibur is not cheap.
“… The GPS-guided round … costs about a quarter of LRLAP’s estimated $1 million per round price tag.” (1)
Defense Industry Daily website cites contract costs of around $70,000 per round (3). A Department of Defense Selected Acquisition Report shows Average Procurement Unit Costs (APUC) of around $100,000 per round (4).
- Excalibur is GPS guided. If GPS is jammed, the round is rendered ineffective. To be fair, that’s true of many military weapons. Further, GPS requires fixed targets so the AGS/Excalibur will have limited utility – the enemy is not going to sit in one spot waiting for us to shoot. Again, to be fair, this was also true of the LRLAP. GPS guidance for a deep inland munition was always a bit of a head scratcher.
|Excalibur - LRLAP Replacement|
So, after spending around $30B for the Zumwalt/AGS program, we’re going to wind up with three ships (maybe only two – the last is being looked at as a rail gun test bed) that can fire a 6” round a few miles further than a WWII era battleship’s 16” shells? For $30B we could have reactivated and operated the battleships for many years.
The AGS/LRLAP is yet another in the seemingly unending list of programs that the Navy committed to before they were technically proven and determined to be cost effective. The lesson keeps getting hammered home and the Navy keeps refusing to learn.
(1)USNI News website, “Raytheon Excalibur Round Set to Replace LRLAP on Zumwalts”, Sam LaGrone,