Of the 32 Zumwalt-class destroyers originally planned, 29 were canceled which led to enormous building cost overruns for the three approved stealthy destroyers, USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), USS Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001), and USS Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG 1002). The reduction to just three of these advanced technology ships also affected their 155mm Advanced Gun Systems (AGS) with custom extended-range GPS rounds costing upwards of $800,000 each.
Thus, the rounds were not purchased and the Zumwalts never fired their AGSs. Years later, the U.S. Navy designated all three stealthy destroyers as “Surface Attack Ships” with the plan to install Maritime Strike Tomahawk cruise missiles (1,000-mile range) in the vertical launch cells and to remove all the 155mm AGSs to install Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) hypersonic missiles with a range of 1,725 miles (2,775 kilometers) and a speed greater than Mach 5. Naval News has covered the three Zumwalt-class destroyers here.
With 80 Mark 57 Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells, the Zumwalt can accommodate missiles slightly larger than the Mark 41 VLS commonly found on U.S. Navy cruisers and DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. However, the three Zumwalts lack the superstructure radars to conduct Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD).
Although the three DDG 1000s each have two 30mm Mark 46 Mod 2 autocannons in turrets, they lack automatic close-in weapons systems, meaning that these destroyers do not have Mark 15 20mm Phalanx Close-in Weapons Systems (CIWS) or RIM 116 Rolling Airframe Missiles (RAM) as these external CIWS systems would compromise the three DDG 1000s’ stealthy angled profiles. “Anti-terrorism weapons” are provided by 7.62mm M240 medium machine guns, handheld 5.56mm M4A1 carbines, handguns, shotguns, and .50cal M2HB heavy machine guns.
According to the U.S. Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the three Zumwalts are supposed to carry one MH-60R Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) helicopter and one Vertical Take-off Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV), possibly a MQ-8B or C version of the “Fire Scout.”
Naval News Comments and Author Analysis
For speculative discussion purposes, having United States Marine Corps’ (USMC) AH-1Z “Viper” attack and UH-1Y “Venom” utility and command and control helicopters aboard bucks the NAVSEA helicopter assignment for DDG 1000s and increases the Force Multiplication factor in accommodating a light attack helicopter capability against sea, surface, air, armor, infantry, radar, vehicles, and fortifications that the normally embarked MH-60R and VTUAV cannot adequately provide.
While the DDG 1000s’ MH-60R and MQ-8 may be able to carry a machine gun, rocket pod, torpedoes, or Hellfire missiles when outfitted for them, the AH-1Z can carry much more, up to sixteen Hellfire missiles and a 20mm autocannon, or a mix of two 2.75-inch (or 5-inch) laser-guided or unguided rockets, eight Hellfire Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM), and/or Stinger Short-Range Air Defense (SHORAD) missiles on the stub wing pylons, and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles on the AH-1Z’s stub wingtips and still retain the 20mm nose cannon.
Having Marine helicopters aboard provides an enhanced strike capability complementing the two embarked Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIB) used for Visual Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) and can also provide armed overwatch, vertical assault, reinforcements, and covering fire for VBSS RHIB teams. This is a Game Changer because the AH-1Z and UH-1Y can provide a better degree of CIWS support that the Zumwalt-class lacks in addition to “eyeballs on target” in the form of manned Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR).
The UH-1Y “Venom” helicopter can carry one pilot, one co-pilot, one crew chief, one (door) gunner, and eight combat-equipped Marines. These eight Marine passengers can land on remote Asian Pacific locations for Direct Action raids, rappel down to ships, or sit inside and use eight laptops controlling all sorts of drones, electronic warfare and jamming, sensors-to-shooters “Kill Chains,” datalinks and data webs, and remote-launch weaponry.
A Marine or Navy sailor’s laptop aboard the UH-1Y can control a wide range of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs), and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs). A Marine, sailor, or SEAL Operator with a laptop aboard a flying UH-1Y far behind the battle can even launch Long-Range Precision Fire (LRPF) missiles from ISO shipping containers aboard Navy ships and U.S. Army or Marine towed trailers, or even from the USMC’s unmanned NMESIS 4×4 Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) armed with two Naval Strike Missiles.
U.S. Marine Corps’ Commandant, General David H. Berger, said at the USNI/CSIS webinar on 1 September 2021 that a U.S. Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier won’t deter all those numerous vessels in a foreign militia fishing fleet; however, a Zumwalt-class destroyer with a Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron aboard just might because the large stealthy angled Zumwalt destroyer has the radar signature of a small fishing boat and the two “radar-friendly” helicopters will be tucked behind on the Flight Deck or hidden inside the hangar, able to pop out and up and attack with a factor and capability beyond what NAVSEA normally assigns to Zumwalts.
U.S. Marine Light Attack Aviation embarked on U.S. Navy ships such as three Zumwalts, or aboard Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), could be the solution to that tactical militia fleet problem, available “off-the-shelf,” “On Call” at a moment’s notice via radio or datalink, and “Mission Ready.”