Sunday, December 16, 2012

Zumwalt & Wampanoag - Got A Mission?

Many of the supporters of some of the most troubled programs seem to focus on the technology offered by the programs rather than their performance or usefulness.  Whether it’s the JSF, LCS, DDG-1000, or whatever, the supporting arguments often seem to be that the technology is so self-evidently superior that the program can’t help but be the next great revolution in naval warfare and, therefore, absolutely vital to the Navy.  What’s overlooked in these types of arguments is whether the technology, even if it works – and it never does work as advertised - is useful for the roles and missions that the Navy is tasked with conducting.

Wampanoag - Technology Without a Mission
Here’s an interesting historical example.  The USS Wampanoag, built during the Civil War, was the lead ship of what was intended to be a class of screw frigates able to run down Confederate commerce raiders and, secondarily, conduct commerce raiding of its own.  The ship incorporated incredibly advanced technology and design features, for that time, and was the fastest ship in existence by a wide margin, establishing speed records that would not be equaled for twenty years.  Unfortunately, with the end of the war the ship’s mission disappeared and her non-traditional design and engineering met with heavy resistance from Navy traditionalists.  In 1869 a Navy commission examined the ship and declared the ship unsuited for active duty and it was removed from service.  Despite being a highly successful technological wonder, the ship was deemed a failure by a Navy that was unprepared and unwilling to adapt to the change in operations that the ship foreshadowed.

Now let’s consider the DDG-1000 Zumwalt class.  It’s simply packed with new, cutting edge technology such as larger, advanced peripheral VLS cells, integrated electric drive, advanced automation resulting in the smallest relative crew size in the Navy, advanced stealth design, composite wood materials, wave piercing tumblehome hull form, total ship computing network, dual band radar (since reduced), and 155 mm automated gun system.  Wow!  Who wouldn’t want dozens of these technological marvels in their fleet?

Zumwalt - What Mission?

Well, the real question is what role/mission/function can these wonderships perform that is useful to the Navy?  The original stated role and design rationale was to provide close in, littoral gunfire – the ability to use the ships stealth and firepower to stand in the littorals and support forces on land.  There have been scattered reports that littoral area air defense was also originally envisioned as a capability.  Hmm …  That could be useful since the Navy’s only other gun support is the 5” gun which the Marines have deemed insufficient. 

But what’s the situation now?  On July 31, 2008, Vice Admiral McCullough and Deputy Assistant Secretary Stiller testified before the Subcommittee on Sea Power and Expeditionary Forces and argued that the DDG-1000 program should be cancelled or truncated after the first two ships were built.

Further, they stated,

“The DDG-1000 cannot perform area air defense; specifically, it cannot successfully employ the Standard Missile-2 (SM-2), SM-3, or SM-6 and is incapable of conducting Ballis­tic Missile Defense. Although superior in littoral ASW, the DDG-1000 lower power sonar design is less effective in the blue water than DDG-51 capability. DDG-1000's Advanced Gun System (AGS) design provides enhanced Naval Fires Support capability in the littorals with increased survivability. However, with the accelerated advancement of precision munitions and targeting, excess fires capacity already exists from tactical aviation and organic USMC fires."  [emphasis added]

Thus, we see that the Navy itself believes, rightly or wrongly, that the gunfire role of the ship is not needed.  Well, where does that leave the DDG-1000 as far as usefulness?  It can conduct inland strikes via Tomahawk missiles but that is hardly a unique mission capability – any Burke class destroyer can do that and Burkes cost far less than the $4B+ or so that a Zumwalt costs.  The Navy has stated that the Zumwalt cannot perform area air defense – which a Burke can – so that’s not a mission.  What about stealthy, in-shore Tomahawk strikes?  Well, given the thousand mile range of the Tomahawk, is it really necessary to stand just offshore to launch missiles?  Any VLS-capable ship can stand 500 miles off and launch missiles while still retaining a 500 mile inland strike range – more than sufficient in 99% of cases, one imagines.  Is extreme stealth needed if a ship is 500 miles from shore?  One suspects not.  Thus, one cannot help but be left to wonder what capability a Zumwalt brings to the fleet that justifies its cost.

Is the Zumwalt the modern equivalent of the Wampanoag, a technological marvel that fills no real need, or at least not enough of one to justify its cost?  The Navy’s decision to truncate the build at three units (and reports suggest that the Navy didn’t even want three but that the contract language made it cheaper to build three than pay the penalties associated with even fewer units or none) strongly suggest that the Navy has already come to the conclusion that the Zumwalt is the modern Wampanoag.

Again, as with the LCS, this demonstrates the folly of building ships without first developing well thought out concepts of operation. 

Ultimately, the greatest value of the Zumwalt may lie in its use as a test bed for the various technologies incorporated into its design and, in that respect, may prove a useful vessel. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I see some of what you're saying.

    Like you I have real concerns with the composite deckhouse. The tumblehome design has some people real worried, and I can understand that. They ran the small scale ship, but only when the Zumwalt goes through some storms will we know for sure. Scale-up equals screw-up, some say.

    I am bothered by the small number of VLS cells. I think more cells could have been fit into a ship the size of the Zumwalt for little extra cost in weight and space (like I have said before in another post). I would have added a few short Mk 48 cells for just ESSM quad-packs, rather than waste an out-sized cell like the Mk 57. I like the Mk 57 because it is capable of handling larger missiles and is peripherally sited, so a well placed hit doesn't set off half the ship's missiles.

    But I am up in the air about the radar system and whether it is area defense-capable. Up until a few years ago, the Navy claimed the Zumwalt could handle area defense with all the missiles that entails. Then they did an about-face when they restarted Burke production, claiming the Zumwalt was deficient. I believe the manufacturer said the SPY-3 was capable of it.

    I think the AGS is a compromise. The 5” is too small a shell for effective shore bombardment, especially if the extended range version has a seeker and booster rocket taking up more volume within the shell. The USN wants compatibility with NATO 155mm shells for economy. I myself always liked the Mk71 8” gun the USN developed in the 1970’s. Simple and a low-tech evolution of the Mk45 5”; it would have thrown a heavy weight of shell. Regardless, I think there may be some times where high volumes of gunfire can be very useful; and not just for amphibious assault. Both Korea and Vietnam had numerous ships conduct shore bombardment to harass and interdict the enemy.

    The ship’s all electric drive is new for the 21st Century USN but the Royal Navy has it in their new Darings, where it appears to work well. I think with some future weapons being directed energy or railgun the all-electric drive could allow the ship to briefly put all its power into some system. The same for the radar in BMD. The Flight III Burke will need additional generators precisely because it uses direct drive; the four LM-2500 engines can produce an enormous amount of electricity if they were turning generators instead of propellers. But the Burke is an early 1980’s design and the Flight III shows it's age there. A DDG built today can expect to see around 30 years of service. This room for growth will be important, I think.

    Ironically the USN liked electric drive prewar. The carriers Lexington and Saratoga as well as the battleship New Mexico pioneered it. It was only with tight naval treaty tonnage restrictions that lighter steam powerplants were chosen over heavy turbo-electric drives. At one point the Lexington powered Tacoma for a month when they lost power in 1930. They simply strung heavy cables from the ship to shore.

  3. I think you've hit the nail on the HEAD. Its a test platform.

    It should have been cheaper but the stupid idea that you just cram everything into one ship untested is insane.

    Whats more the space nesseary to give the ship a good bit of flexability is out...which is one of the things which made the DDG-51 platforms so good.

    The AGS is stupid. Its a missile launched out of a gun tube. It cant fire any other form of ammunition, It takes over 9min to cover its maximum range and no matter what anyone says the rounds will be expensive.

    1. James, you mention the space on the DDG-51 being the key to flexibility and yet one of the biggest criticisms of the Burke class is the extreme crowding. I think I'm missing the point you're making. Could you expand on it a bit? Are you talking specifically about the weapon "module" spaces, perhaps?

    2. There WAS space built into the burke hull for it to grow as new technology was invented. This space has been filled up as the ship has evolved. This isnt about crew space so much as equipment.

  4. As a former Navy sailor, I have to admit I was impressed with the technology and the capabilities of the Navy's new Zumwalt class destroyer. However, at a cost of approximately $3B each, I can't imagine what role this ship could play that couldn't be accomplished with existing assets. If you really need something destroyed that is inland from the coast, one B-52 more than triples the ordinance load that could be delivered by the advanced gun system aboard the Zumwalt. If stealth is an issue, then use the Ohio class SSGN. But if you REALLY need to knock-down an enemy's door, then dust-off and send in one of the Iowa class battleships. Stealth not needed. Anything tossed at a heavily armored battleship short of a nuke is just another problem for the paint crew. I think the Navy should stop with one ship as a technology demonstrator and use the $6B saved on increasing already proven assets.

    1. William, you've summed the situation up quite nicely. The only realistic use I can see for the Zumwalt is as a gunfire ship for those targets that don't warrant a million dollar missile but aren't susceptible to a 5" shell. How many of those are there? And at $4B? I have no problem with a larger gunned ship for that scenario but couldn't we have built one for a lot, lot less money?

      The only other real value the Zumwalt may possess is the Mk57 Peripheral Launch Cells. If we someday develop a highly effective missile of some type that needs those larger cells than the ship may prove useful. However, I'm not aware of anything currently under development that needs the bigger cells.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I recall reading about this class some years ago, never thought you would actually go ahead and build them.

    If wood is so stealthy, perhaps we should put some VLS on HMS Victory!

    1. HMS Victory conducting area air defense and inland strikes. I love it! In a few more years, Victory can mount lasers and railguns, too. Once again, you've made my day!

      If it's a questionable idea then we'll probably go ahead and build it. Of course, to be fair, it sounds like you guys (you're from England, I think?) are looking to repeat our LCS fiasco with your own version of it, the Black Swan (or whatever name you call it).

      Hey, thanks for stopping by!

  6. "you're from England, I think?" - Guilty as charged. Yes, Sir David Richards, Chief of Defence Staff, has talked about building corvettes for lesser tasks (like chasing pirates and drug runners) currently undertaken by Destroyers/Frigates because RN doesn't have anything else available.

    As long as they get built as well as and not instead of DD/FFs then the more the merrier. Hopefully we don't go down the LCS gold-plated route.

    Another excellent post btw.

  7. You're making the wrong historical analogy. Instead of Wampanoag, think Sqauadron of Evolution:


    1. Moose, I'm not very familiar with that group. Were they simply part of the evolutionary transition or were they technological wonders that had no purpose as Wampanoag was and Zumwalt may be?

      Even the LCS doesn't fall into this category. As it currently exists, LCS is not a technological wonder. In fact, it's an extremely pedestrian ship which is why so many people are disappointed by it.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Wampanoag is an interesting comparison. You know that engineers have a tendency to be conservatives? This ship was built post ACW when monitors ruled the waves.

    The Zumwalt seems another example of mission creep destryoing intentions like the streetfighter became the current LCS. It's perhaps a deeper problem than technology by not limiting a platform in her capabilities, but having everything on it.
    The Zumwalt is a very submersed and stealthy ship that has a big gun and can hunt submarines in cluttered environment. How would the Zumwalt fare as an LCS? - Too big? Scale down, cut costs and capabilities.

  9. Zumwalt was delivered on time and on schedule. Which doesn't happen much anymore.

    As far as performance, I'm hopeful, but we won't know for a while. With it's stealth, large number of cells, and guns, the Zumwalt appears to be a vessel than can project independently of a Carrier Task Force, which is something the Navy definitely needs.

    The 3-4 billion a a pop make it cost prohibitive to replace the Burke, although I've read some articles that the upgrades on the Flight 3 Burkes are costing a lot more than expected.

    The frustrating thing is the complaint that it doesn't offer fleet air defense. It wasn't designed as an escort ship. That "it should be the best at everything" line of thinking is exactly what has gotten the LCS and the F35 in trouble.

    The Zumwalt is the naval equivalent of the A10.

    1. James, you're quite right about not needing to be "everything". The flip side of that thought, though, is that if a ship is going to only have a limited set of functions, it shouldn't cost what an "everything" ship does.

      Zumwalt has only one function - shore bombardment. While it supposedly has an ASW function, no one is going to risk a $4B ship playing tag with a submarine.

    2. Well it a bit late to comment. I think you are bit hard on the Wampanoag. Or rather I don't think running down CSA raiders was its main purpose. It was a signal to the UK or France that the Union could produce very fast commerce raiders of its own. An implicit threat to UK commerce (and the insurance rate spike that would occur if the UK moved toward recognition of the CSA or talk of enforcing a cease fire went anywhere etc. About the same time the Navy was taking bids on a small-frigate-type heavily armed blue water ironclad as well ( not a monitor type). Donald L. Canney's 2 volumes on the Old Steam Navy are a useful source. Given at about the same time William H. Webb was finishing to large Ironclads for the Italian navy in NY. I think the Union was attempting something rather like China with in ballistic missile CV killers. Convincing the UK it was not going to have an easy war if things went in that direction.


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 7 days in order to reduce spam.