Sunday, February 23, 2014

Zumwalt Cost Update

We’ve previously noted that the Zumwalt has received a bit of a free pass regarding public analysis and oversight (see, Who's Watching Zumwalt).  Compared to the poor LCS, the Zumwalt is a complete unknown.  ComNavOps, however, is keeping an eye on things.  Here’s a quick update on the program costs.

GAO (1) lists the program costs as of August 2012 as

R&D:  $10.3B
Procurement:  $11.1B
Additional R&D and Procurement Funding Needed for Completion:  $1.9B
Total Cost:  $23.3B

Given that the complete program build is three ships and there’s nowhere else to spread the R&D costs, the unit cost for the Zumwalts is an average of $7.8B.  Of course, this optimistically assumes no further cost overruns. That is a whopping lot of money to spend on a ship with a very limited mission set! 

(1) Government Accountability Office, “DEFENSE ACQUISITIONS
Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs”, March 2013, GAO-13-294SP


  1. "But but, lasers! Railguns!"

    Sarcasm aside, what is your opinion on lasers and railguns?

    1. Railguns, like the current Zumwalt AGS, only solve part of the Naval Fire support problem. Because of hte extended range they are only good against stationary or fixed targets. With flight times measured in minutes, they are useless against moving units whether armored or infantry because you cannot predict accurately when a moving target will spped up. slow down or stop. So a USMC unit engaged with infantry 50 km beyond the beach will not be able to call in effective Naval Gunfire support unless it is used only as a final line in front of their fixed positions. BTW the last thing you want is fixed positions.

      AGS and Railguns are SciFi candy for folks that do not know how artillery supports infantry. If you want to say AGS and Railguns are Tomahawk alternatives, fines let's compare the warheads for that mission, but drop the infantry support portion of the Naval Gunfire requirement.

      BTW how well does a vertical warhead work on a hardened site? How many 16 inch shells were lobbed at German and Japanese batteries that continued to fire? How many LRAPs or ERGMS or whatever can we afford to shoot at $50k per?

    2. Lasers and railguns are both worth continued development efforts but both are decades away from practical use, yet. Both have some pretty serious technical issues still to overcome. I'm doubtful that lasers will ever be the Star Wars instant-touch-of-destruction that people imagine. The challenges of interference from atmospheric dust and moisture are too difficult. Plus, countermeasures seem easy - simple reflectance, for instance. That said, I'm not a laser expert by any means. Railguns will eventually have some use if the heat and power issues can be overcome. Tracking will also be a challenge. Trying to obtain targeting solution which requires a skin-on-skin result is daunting. Railguns may have a limited shore bombardment role and, if tracking can be accomplished, a CIWS-type role.

      As I said, I just don't have enough technical expertise with these technologies to offer a more definitive answer.

    3. Anon makes a good point about railguns in the long range fire support role. Since the railgun projectile is an inert mass, there won't be any GPS/INS/laser guidance. It will be simple calculated co-ordinates and I just don't see that as very accurate (in addition to the moving target issue he mentions). If you add a guidance package to the projectile (assuming you could get the package to survive the massive acceleration!) then the railgun loses its biggest advantage which is cost effectiveness.

    4. There is another scheme towards Shore-Bombardment - obvious once you remember folks firing 155mm M-109 from an LCU with an unstabilized barrel !

      With a stabilized (set of) barrel(s), LCU-based IFS can throw unguided or guided rounds via barrels.

      Serious advantages:
      - lots of dispersed barrels,
      - close inshore just beyond tank-gun range,
      - perpetually-mobile for least plausible reverse-battery,
      - not much visual signature to go after,
      - not much targeting-signature if a low-profile 21st-century type,
      - per Dollar of bang - guided or not - 155mm rounds stow much more compactly than missiles/rockets, meaning that much more on hand per given volume aboard and between 140 and 200tons of IFS-load capacity, thus with more rounds on hand than the barrel-life can likely support...

      And with the ARG/MEU now out at 70+nm (and like growing), LCU(X)-based shore-bombardment can be close inshore for maximum range,
      which also means
      - no DDG-1000 at risk in the Littorals, (will never be where you'd need them).
      - no DDG-51 at risk in the Littorals, good for ARG-defense though.

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    1. B.Smitty, great comment! The Zumwalt has two possible values. One is as a technology test bed for components that will be used in future ships, as you noted. The other is if we can come up with future weapons that take advantage of the ship's attributes. For example, if we can develop a missile that benefits from the Mk57 peripheral VLS (IRBM, maybe, or new anti-ship missile? or Tomahawk replacement?). Lasers and railguns offer another possible way the Zumwalt could become useful although I suspect that practical lasers and railguns are still beyond the lifespan of the Zumwalt.

      If neither of those things happen to a significant degree, the Zumwalts will be deemed a failure - an $8B ship with a very limited mission set.


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