Written by Vladimir Tuchkov; Originally appeared at SVPress, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
It has been more than a year that the destroyer “Zumwalt” is part of the US Navy. But, last week the official spokesperson of the US Navy magazine Defense News announced that the question of how its shells will be used in its artillery is still not resolved.
The artillery weapons of the destroyer consist of two AGS towers with automatic artillery installations of 155mm calibre. Each of them must be supplied with 450 shells. However, there are less than seven dozens on the ship. And they will not be made by the American industry, specifically by Lockheed Martin. Each shell costs 800 thousand dollars. It is only two times cheaper than the cost of “Tomahawk” missiles, which are much more efficient. On the “Zumwalt” 80 “Tomahawks” can be placed in about 20 launchers.
It must be said that such a fantastic price for shells is not the fault of the manufacturer. Thirty-two class “Zumwalt” ships were supposed to be built for the US Navy. And with the large-scale production of shells the cost of each should not have exceeded 35 thousand dollars. However, two years before the laying of the flagship, it was decided to limit to 24 destroyers. Then the figure was cut to 7 units. And finally, the plan was left with 3 ships. For this reason, the price of a single projectile soared to unimaginable heights. The costs of development and production preparations were not divided on a large series of ammunition. In addition, the leadership of the US Navy refused to send to the enemy truly precious shells.
Such a sharp reduction in numbers, as announced, of the most powerful and effective destroyers in the world, belonging to a new generation was due to the fact that the US Congress was disappointed in terms of price and quality. One ship was worth almost $4.5 billion, due to the fact that new technologies are used.
Its displacement is equal to 14,500 tonnes. Its length reaches 183m and the width is 25m. All processes are so automated that the crew consists of only 148 personnel. This machine can reach a speed of up to 30 knots. This should be developed further below.
The shell LRLAP (Long-Range Land Attack Projectile), without a doubt is good. But its problem is that it was designed only for “Zumwalt” destroyers. And it’s not used anywhere else. Its length is 2.24m and its mass is 102kg. Its explosive mass is 11kg. The remaining mass is used for the jet engine, its solid fuel and the flight controls. The LRLAP is an active-reactive projectile, the range of which reaches 150 km with a circular error probability of 20-50m. The control system is inertial with adjustments through GPS signals.
Fifty metres is perhaps much, given the small weight of the explosive. However, the designers conceived the present weapon as a counterpart to multiple launch rocket systems for shelling shore targets, but in continuous action when the salvo is stretched over time. This is evidenced for example, with the high rate of fire for such massive ammunition with 12 rounds per minute. True, the shells of such a concept should be inexpensive. However, everything turned out to be just the opposite.
The price issue has led to the fact that the destroyer currently is not ready for combat. And it’s not known when the American military-industrial complex will create a more affordable replacement for the LRLAP shells.
However, this is not the destroyer’s only problem. There are serious doubts about the performance at maximum capacity of the ship’s power plant. The “Zumwalt” uses gas turbine engines of 87megawatt capacity. With the design used, the rotation shaft is not transmitted to the propeller but the generator. The generated electricity is supplied to the electric motor on the shaft on which the propeller is located. As a result of this multi-stage system, it reduces the system’s efficiency. But it wouldn’t be so bad. Such “intricate” engineering solution lowers the reliability of the power system that it makes itself felt under heavy loads.
The American sailors encountered for the first time this surprise after a month of destroyer’s trial operations as it passed through the Suez Canal. There was a failure of the power plant, whereupon the ship was left without electricity, lost control and “clinked” with the wall of the canal. In the process of ship repairs, towed to the shipyard, a leak was found. Seawater damaged a few bearings. The leak occurred as a result of depressurisation of the cooling system. It is symptomatic that the power plant of the destroyer came at the maximum load before the crash.
And recently there was a failure of the electrical filters that need to provide damping to sudden changes in voltages. And this also happened at a higher load.
The design under which the main engine transmits the rotation of the shaft through the double conversion of energy is well known. It is applied on the submarine “Ohio”. But there is it used only when taxiing to reduce noise. The cruising speed of the ship is realised according to the traditional design of a steam turbine shaft through the gearbox to the propeller.
The designers managed to convince the customer to use the principle of “electric speed”, arguing that the destroyer in the foreseeable future may have a railgun installed. And for its supply it needs huge electrical energy. It is for this reason that all mechanical energy from the turbine installation on the “Zumwalt” is converted to electric.
There is another “surprise” on the destroyer, which, as with the energy insecurity, cannot be attributed to the “infantile disorder”, which later can be “cured”. The “Zumwalt” has “futuristic” geometry that minimises the visibility of the ship to enemy radar. That is, all is a stealth game. To do this, designers had to bevel the sides to the water surface, which externally looks like a classic iron. But it significantly reduces the stability of the ship in side pitching. In a classic profile of a vessel, when tilting one side, the displacement increases in the direction of the roll. In the “Zumwalt”, everything is just the opposite.
In the American Navy, which was always built on the basis of large-scale production of warships, occasionally met with failures of replications of already designed and launched in serial production of innovative projects. It happened to the superb multi-purpose nuclear submarine “Seawolf”. These boats began to be built back in the late 80s. And to this day, they are the best in the world in their class. However, there were only three boats built. The continuation of the series was abandoned due to the too high cost of the submarines. And the fact that the US “finally and irrevocably” has won the Cold War. They decided to build less complicated boats such as “Virginia”.
With the destroyer “Zumwalt” the situation is somewhat different. The Congress, which dramatically reduced the series, scared by its price, but also by the discrepancy in quality expectations that have been associated with it. Using simple arithmetic, it was found that 80 “Tomahawk” cruise missiles is almost two times less expensive than 154 of the same missiles that arm each converted into a multi-purpose strategic “Ohio” submarine. The cost of upgrading is only $800 million. And there are excellent prospects to continue this process because at the end of the next decade the “Ohio” will be replaced with the promising underwater rocket launchers “Columbia”.
There is another aggravating moment in the fate of the “Zumwalt”. This destroyer, according to the concept, in addition to solving a number of problems must still provide air and missile defence to the group of ships. However, it was not able to defend itself properly. It has twin anti-aircraft 30mm calibre guns. It has as well RIM-162anti-aircraft missiles of medium range. However, they are not integrated in the ship’s missile defence system “Aegis”. The destroyer doesn’t have one, unlike many American destroyers of the “Ali Burke” type. That is, the “Zumwalt” is not able to participate in a group missile defence, which is provided by “Aegis”.
In connection with the above condition, this destroyer, with its original geometry, can cause aesthetic delight, is not destined to become a “ship of the future”. This characteristic at its mention is heard less and less.