America’s $9 Billion Zumwalt Destroyer Completes First Operational Deployment: Costly New Upgrades Proposed

The U.S. Navy’s sole operational Zumwalt Class destroyer, the USS Zumwalt, has completed its first operational deployment with the Pacific Fleet. The deployment concluded on November 10 three months after its departure on August 1. The destroyer is one of just three of its class to have been built, with costs per unit of over $9 billion making them by far the most expensive surface combatants in the world and several times as costly as originally projected when the program was initiated. A total of 32 warships were originally planned with the other 29 cut due to issues with the design, including the fact that the destroyers’ main armaments their 155 millimetre guns had to be removed and the number of vertical launch cells had to be cut to a very conservative 80. The USS Zumwalt first joined the navy’s combat fleet in April 2020, although its attention of combat readiness was  six years behind schedule. Propulsion systems and sensors have been other primary sources of performance issues. 

The future of the Zumwalt Class destroyer program remains uncertain, with proposals made to equip the three ships with Conventional Prompt Global Strike intercontinental range ballistic missiles. The missile is intended to bring the range and speed of a nuclear ICBM to a conventional attack, allowing it to be used against non-nuclear adversaries and to neutralise targets across the world without escalation to nuclear war. The Zumwalt’s stealth capabilities have been seen to make it a perfect launch platform for such missiles, and each destroyer is expected to be able to carry 12 ICBMs. More recently, closely coinciding with the conclusion of the USS Zumwalt’s first deployment, the possibility of a major upgrade package has again been raised including developing a new vertical launch system for the ship to accommodate strategic hypersonic missiles. The Zumwalt was conceptualised primarily for land attack roles from the outset, with development of the Conventional Prompt Global Strike system allowing the ships to strike ground targets from much greater ranges than originally envisioned for their primarily armament of 155mm guns.