Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Let's Not Pretend Land Attack is the Mission

Zumwalt is afloat and ready to join the fleet. But let's not pretend that bombarding shore targets is its mission.

Zumwalt is the first hull delivered in the $22 billion, three-ship class. The second and third ships — Michael Moonsor (DDG-1001) and Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002) – are currently under construction at BIW.

The ships are built around a first-ever electric drive system in which the main engines power an electrical grid instead a direct link to the ship’s props allowing more margin to add additional systems to the ships.The ships’ main weapons are twin 155mm BAE Systems Advanced Gun Systems (AGS) designed to fire a specialized rocket assisted guided round to attack land targets – Lockheed Martin’s Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP).

They are so expensive because the ship class was truncated, so the development costs had to be counted for only three hulls. (Which will be "free" technology for the next class, by accounting rules!)

But good God, no enemy believes we will send such expensive ships (stealthy does not mean invisible) close enough to shore to use guns. Even long-range guns won't match land attack cruise missiles or standoff weapons on aircraft.

Why pretend to our public when our enemy surely knows this concept is nonsense.

But the ship class is good even at three.

One, the guns will be useful for integrating into the tactical cloud.

And two, the electric drive system provides a good platform to experiment with lasers, electric armor, weaponized AESA radars, and rail guns for the next generation of ships to replace all of our main surface combatants, the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers.

Our legacy destroyers lack the electric power for all those things. Although some are upgraded a bit to begin the shift to these electricity-guzzling systems.

So welcome to the fleet Zumwalt class ships. I expect a lot of good experiments more than I expect one more ship on station in the Pacific at any one time.