Monday, January 15, 2018

The Third Zumwalt

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 Pueblo or Liberty, 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.

  • 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.



37 comments:

  1. This is a brilliant idea.

    If it's a prototype, why not all of the above, just in series? IIRC there was a ship awhile back that tested everything from TALOS to AEGIS.

    Another thing they can do is test it in fleet exercises to see how well that stealth really works, and if the price paid by that tumblehome is worth it.

    Finally, for my own $.02, I love the gun idea and the EW ship too.

    I don't even know if the Navy has any conventional 8" guns it could install. Or hell, lets go for a 'lightweight' 10" mount. Why do I think this is important? I believe you are right in saying that a lot of the electronic stuff is going to go away in a peer fight, and if the ship can't target something with it's own sensors, it's going to be in for a butt kicking. Give it 8" guns and if everything else fails it can pummel an opponent within the radar horizon.

    As far as EW... I honestly think that should be looked into as a great 'soft' example of close or intermediate range missile defense. It isn't as star wars or risky as lasers, and it has unlimited 'ammunition' so long as you have power.

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  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Norton_Sound_(AVM-1)

    This was the ship I was thinking of. Balloons, to Terriers, to Aegis.

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  3. Presume BIW want to see the back of the third Zumwalt ASAP, history of program slippages and labor disputes, its nothing but a hindrance to their future with AB FLT IIIs and taking up valuable space in the shipyard.

    The Navy had tried to cancel the ship in 2015, if Navy wanted to change contract/design BIW would be in a strong position for a quid pro quo with possibly understanding award of contract for the FFG(X) with the Navantia F105, but think that's unlikely as Navy want to forget Zumwalts, they are an embarrassment and Navy would lose face asking Congress for additional $billions for experimental ship.

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    1. "Navy would lose face"

      That ship has sailed. The Navy has already lost face from the whole AGS fiasco!

      Delete
  4. I'd put the full SPY-3 radar on like they had originally planned. The Ford has the only full set. That and 2 61 cell VLS with the SM-6 missile. Also a VLS where they can test reloading at sea concepts.

    She would be a prototype AAW cruiser.

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    1. And a very efficient ship killer by the way, if you put stealthy ASM's in some cells.

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    2. "She would be a prototype AAW cruiser."

      What would it be prototyping? We already have and understand VLS, AAW, SM-6, and stealth. Reloading has been done before, too, and was abandoned. If we want to explore new ways to reload at sea, that can be done on a tiny commercial ship. I'd like to get some better value out of an $8B prototype!

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    3. I might be confused, but I thought SPY-6 was going into the Flt III's, and that the SPY-3 dual band was only going into the Ford, so it's a dead end?

      Delete
    4. "I'd put the full SPY-3 radar on like they had originally planned."

      Just a clarification. The originally planned Dual Band Radar (DBR) consisted of the SPY-3 (X-band) and SPY-4 (S-band volume search). The SPY-4 was cancelled for the Zumwalt. Only the Ford has the full DBR.

      Here's a link to a DBR post from a while back, Dual Band Radar

      Delete
  5. I desperately want to see the return of large gun ships, but I don't think the Zumwalts are a good hull to do it on. I like the suggestion of a dedicated EW ship and this might be a good platform for it.

    MM-13B

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    1. "I don't think the Zumwalts are a good hull to do it on."

      Of course not! That's not the point. The point is to prototype the heavy guns. Almost by definition, a prototype is not the ideal version of whatever is being prototyped. The purpose of a prototype is to learn about the thing being prototyped. Then, later, after lessons have been learned, an optimized version can be built.

      In this case, the Navy has completely forgotten what big guns are and needs to relearn that. They need to relearn how to tactically employ heavy guns, what effects they can have, what types of missions they would be effective at, how to integrate them into operational level planning, etc. All this can be done with a non-optimum prototype.

      Zumwalt is not the ultimate solution for big guns but it is, potentially, a very good solution for a big gun prototype.

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    2. USS Norton Sound started out as a seaplane tender. They made her test the 5"54, Terrier, Tarter, and Aegis system.

      With the spaces left over if you don't install the AGS, you could try lots of new stuff.

      And for guns, I think there is some real opportunity. I also think it's very important because I honestly don't think the Navy has been in the real medium caliber naval gun game for so long that neither it, nor the defense contractors, really have much of an idea how to pull it off anymore.

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    3. There are already stability issues with this ship. I assume an 8" gun turret will add more topside weight than the AGS. There is a large segment of admirals who would like to see a big gun prototype fail, so we will have to continue relying on high-tech (expensive) weapons. We have a number of support ships with excellent stability; they are relatively inexpensive and would allow tremendous flexibility with different gun mounts. What do we have sitting in the moth-ball fleet?

      I get what you are saying about prototypes, but there are better hulls for a large gun prototype. I really don't want that one to fail.

      I've been on a tour of the Zumwalt and it looks to me as a very good platform a EW ship. Plentiful electrical generation and distribution, large electronics/computer suites, and the AGS mounts could be replaced with some sort of transmitters. I'd like to hear comment from someone with a background in electronic warfare.

      MM-13B

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    4. "there are better hulls for a large gun prototype. I really don't want that one to fail."

      Absolutely. If an engineering analysis showed that the ship was not suited for large guns then let's find another ship! I'm just trying to come up with some way to extract some value from a now nearly worthless ship and prototyping seems a good way and 8" guns seems a good thing to prototype but only if the ship, itself, can handle it. I suspect it can but I'll leave that to the engineers!

      Delete
    5. I've long been intrigued by offensive electronic warfare and I mean offensive in a major way. Giant transmitters, microwave transmitters, giant emitters, and the like. Incoming missiles? Fry their little electronic brains!

      To the best of my knowledge, this kind of massively powerful offensive EW has never been tried and certainly not at sea. Of course, the reason it hasn't may be that it won't work!

      I could imagine an EW-Zumwalt sited on the periphery of a task force along the threat axis and electronically taking on saturation missile attacks similar to the Aegis/Standard capability.

      Would it work? Who knows but it would make a great prototype!

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    6. Cancel it entirely. Zumwalt is a boondoggle.

      b2





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    7. The other thing that I think they could do is test that hybrid electric drive. Run the $hit out of it. Test it against shock damage. If it's something that is useful (and I liked how it was used for the Standards that had it) it would be good to know its strengths and weaknesses.

      Delete
    8. "test that hybrid electric drive."

      As I'm sure you're aware, all-electric ships are nothing new. Early battleships, the carriers Lexington and Saratoga, and even some destroyer escorts all had turbo-electric drives. Lexington proved the versatility of the arrangement by providing power to some city (Tacoma?) that had lost its power.

      Today's systems are more complex in that there are more loads on the system (radars, ECM, etc.) and we've tried to tie alternate diesel motors into the system but the basic power generation is the same as the old ships. As with so many other technologies, we've forgotten what we once had and think we're inventing something new.

      I'm waiting for the Navy to discover gunpowder or sails again!

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  6. Cancel it. Build something else that works or buy more SuperHornets...

    b2

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    1. Unfortunately, the contracts have been issued. I don't know the termination penalties but I assume they're substantial.

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    2. I think someone looked into it early on and the cancellation penalties made it more expensive than to just finish it. But I'd have to look it up. Doesn't make it less of a boondoggle, but there it is. I like the idea of prototyping stuff with it.

      One thing, people keep saying it could be a singlely deployable ship due to its stealth. The stuff isn't magic. Other nations will be able to see the thing. It might buy it some time but if we are really talking about anything other than passive EW gathering I'm guessing a (cheaper) sub is better.

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    3. "people keep saying it could be a singlely deployable ship due to its stealth."

      You are correct that it is not a solo-deployable ship, at least not survivably, other than under some unique circumstance which I can't imagine. The ship lacks manpower and close in CIWS type protection. I'm also not convinced that the supposed stealth is significantly effective. It may be true but there's nothing in the public domain that I'm aware of to support that belief.

      Delete
  7. Just a question: the AGS has nothing to do with the rail-gun system which was tested on USNS Millinocket?

    If not, this third Zumwalt could also be a test bed for such a gun.

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    1. No, the AGS has nothing to do with a rail gun. The third Zumwalt was, actually, considered for installation of a rail gun but the idea was not pursued. My understanding is that a rail gun is still not developmentally advanced enough for prototyping, yet.

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  8. Not only would the Zumwalts make a great platform for an offensive electronic warfare ship; it's an idea the techno-centric crowd would go for too.

    MM-13B

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  9. The great Irony the railgun is looking more and more unnecessary because the work on its own projectiles and others has shown more promise in HV rounds. 8in HV rounds they would be 6in saboted but then also probably get 100nmi range they wanted.

    Could have forward gun replaced by the 8in Mk71 and the rear one replaced by the ATACMS/MLRS.


    That way you learn both.

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  10. If the Zumwalt went along your lines of thinking CNO, then it's perceived weakness of only 80 VLS isn't too bad. In fact, it becomes a very heavily armed stealth ship which can conduct solo stealth missions. The Zumwalt does have some pluses. From the online reports, stealth is first class. I have not been able to find any mention of it's range, but I have trouble imagining it is less than 5000nm, so range is probably (fingers crossed) decent. This means it could possibly go out on it's own, as you say, to conduct EW, intel gathering, targeting information for OTH missiles etc.

    And the Zumwalt could protect itself with hundreds of ESSM's ,ASROC's, and harpoons/LRASM's. Just remove the land attack aspect and the Zumwalt could be freed up for other tasks.

    I like how you've opened the discussion on this large vessel.

    At least it has possibilities, unlike the LCS.

    Andrew

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    1. "The Zumwalt does have some pluses. ... At least it has possibilities, unlike the LCS."

      You make a great observation. The LCS has very little redeeming qualities but the Zumwalt could be adapted to something useful. I have doubts about the tumblehome hull for open ocean work but I'll wait to hear some actual reports before passing judgement. Still, we can make something of the ship if we use just a bit of imagination. Of course, thus far, I've seen no indication that the Navy has any plan other than to complete the ship as the nearly useless vessel it is with a non-functional gun system.

      We can only hope the Navy reads this blog!

      Good comment.

      Delete
  11. I like the EW Zumwalt idea. SS Sea Growler anyone? Also using a low cost hull that we already have to work out big guns and GMLRS/ATACMS and once proven to work the first 2 Zumwalts could be retrofitted.

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  12. Off topic a bit: I saw this yesterday and wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry:

    https://www.military.com/defensetech/2018/01/17/army-chief-wants-robotic-vehicles-ai-future-battles.html

    ""I am not interested in a linear progression into the future that will end up in defeat on a future battlefield," said Milley, describing the mistake of depending on incremental improvements to existing combat platforms.

    "We are talking about 10X capabilities that don't physically exist in the real world right this minute, but they will," he added."I am not interested in a linear progression into the future that will end up in defeat on a future battlefield," said Milley, describing the mistake of depending on incremental improvements to existing combat platforms.

    "We are talking about 10X capabilities that don't physically exist in the real world right this minute, but they will," he added."

    Looks like we lost a generation of equipment to being transformational, and the lesson was we weren't transformational enough.

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    1. I guess we needed to be even more "transformational" ???

      MM-13B

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    2. This time, we're sure that the next quarter trillion will fix it!

      I'm not sure on this, but from what little I read the Big 5 programs used new tech, but didn't rely on non existent advancements.

      That worked out fairly well.

      Why can't we do that any more.

      Delete
  13. Hello,

    I can't find a contact e-mail address or contact form anywhere, so I'd like to ask you to drop me a note so I can ask something privately.

    Sven Ortmann
    defence_and_freedom@gmx.de

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are a lot of crazy people on the Internet so I keep my contact and personal information fairly private. If you'd care to give me your email address, I'll be glad to reply to it. If you want to do that, spell out the address so it can't be spotted by robots. For example,

      your name at yahoo dot com

      If you choose to do this, I'll delete the comment as soon as I see it in order to minimize the chance of others getting it.

      Delete
  14. The Zumwalts will never be frontline ships, better to make them floating battle labs. EW/intel ships may be a better option. I would love to see UAV added as well but without a proper flight deck its role would have to be towards drones and not aircraft size UAVs.

    Sadly the biggest problem is that there is no command or political structure willing to think outside the box to support an X ship, for lack of a better term. Even if the brightest minds could cobble together new weapons and new tactics, the bureaucracy would end it.

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  15. Rip out the rear AGS, Replace by more VLS.
    Add a RAM launcher + a CIWS ( millenium 35mm seems to be the lightest ).
    Work out a deal with Oto-Melara to get their vulcano ammo suite in the last AGS, its not quite the range of the LRLAP, but miles better than 5" gun range. On the plus side they have IR guided Antiship ammo.



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    1. As we've discussed throughout this post, adding a few more VLS cells doesn't really accomplish anything.

      As far as O-M ammo, there is no ammo that can operate from the AGS - that's the whole problem. They designed the AGS with a non-standard barrel twist. Either the entire gun would have to be redesigned or a brand new type of ammo would have to be developed. I can't see the Navy or a manufacturer wanting to pay the umpteen millions of dollars for a new ammo that is only applicable to six or fewer guns in the world!

      Delete

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