Why the new Zumwalt destroyers’ guns won’t work

The Navy is about to give their Zumwalt-class destroyers some serious ship-killing upgrades. The multi-billion dollar vessels, equipped with a host of advanced technologies, will be given additional weapon systems, primarily for their Mk 57 vertical-launch systems.

According to a report by DefenseNews.com, the upgrades are part of the Defense Department’s effort to counter China’s increasingly capable blue-water Navy. The Zumwalt-class destroyers are already capable of firing the BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile, some variants of which are capable of hitting ships.

The truncation of the Zumwalt-class destroyer to three vessels from previously planned purchases of 32, 28, and seven, resulted in the cancellation of the Long-Range Land-Attack Projectile, leaving the vessels’ pair of 155mm Advanced Gun Systems without any ammo. A number of off-the-shelf options are present for the guns, including the Vulcano round (a miniature anti-ship missile), but the former commander of the lead ship of the class, USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), said that the Navy had made no decision as to what to equip the guns with – leaving them non-functional for all intents and purposes.

One of the likely systems to be added to the Zumwalt is the RIM-174 SM-6 Extended Range Active Missile. This is a version of the canceled RIM-156 Standard SM-2 Block IVA that has been equipped with the seeker from the AIM-120C-7 version of the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile. In essence, it is primarily a fire-and-forget surface-to-air missile.

The RIM-66 Standard SM-1 and SM-2 surface-to-air missiles, earlier missiles in the Standard series, also had a secondary capability to attack surface ships – with one notable use being during Operation Preying Mantis when they were used by to sink an Iranian Navy Combattante II-class missile boat, the Joshan.

The SM-6 also is capable against ballistic missiles, with one of these missiles scoring a kill against a simulated medium-range ballistic missile during a test last August. The kill is notable, as the SM-6 uses a blast-fragmentation warhead as opposed to the SM-3’s hit-to-kill intercept vehicle.

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