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|
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?|
“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.