There’s been an interesting discussion going in a recent post about the fate of the third Zumwalt, currently under construction. The Navy has stated that they are no longer pursuing a replacement munition for the cancelled Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP). Thus, the Zumwalt’s have no functional main armament. Their guns, the very reason for their existence, are just paperweights. The magnitude of the stupidity that led to this situation is staggering but typical of the Navy. We’ll leave that aspect alone, however, for the time being. Instead, the situation raises an interesting problem and opportunity.
The problem is the obvious one: it makes no sense to complete the third Zumwalt with a non-functional gun. To do so would create a $4B+, 15,000 t ship that carries only 80 VLS cells and a limited radar system. That's the equivalent of a super-sized frigate or a partially neutered Burke. That would add almost nothing to the fleet's combat power.
The opportunity is the chance to complete the third ship as a prototype – the question being what kind of prototype? Here are a few possibilities:
- Complete the ship as a heavy (by today’s standards) naval gunfire support vessel by installing 8” guns. The guns can be either the old, already tested, Mk71 or some new design. Yes, it would probably take a year or so to design a new gun but, who cares – the ship isn’t needed. This would give the Navy a chance to re-acquaint themselves with heavy guns and begin the process of regenerating actual, effective naval fire support.
- Install a navalized version of the Army’s MLRS/ATACMS in place of the guns. Again, this would give the Navy a chance to explore another form of naval fire support and one with potentially much more range than the original Advanced Gun System would have had – potentially a major improvement!
- Complete the ship as a UAV “carrier” by repurposing the hangar and flight deck to exclusive UAV operations. This would give the Navy a chance to explore operational integration of UAVs into task groups.
- Complete the ship as an
advanced intelligence and surveillance vessel. Unlike the
or Pueblo , this ship would be able to defend itself and could be sent into high threat areas such as the South/East China Seas, off the Russian coast, or near NKorea. Liberty
- Complete the ship as an advanced electronic warfare (EW) ship. Load it up with every electronic warfare piece of equipment and see what a dedicated EW ship can do. This would allow the Navy to explore offensive and defensive EW and see if a single ship can provide effective area EW protection. The ship has plenty of electrical power for the equipment.
We’ve discussed the need for diversity in the fleet and the need for prototypes to promote that diversity. Well, this a golden, if unwanted, opportunity to prototype something new and potentially useful. Knowing the Navy, however, they’ll complete the ship with a non-functional gun and waste the opportunity.