USS Zumwalt on the water

Around two weeks ago, the US Navy commissioned its newest and most futuristic warship, the USS Zumwalt. On board the ship is two massive guns that could hit targets 80 miles away, which looked to change the game forever.

However, it is now thought that the Navy is moving to cancel the projectiles for the guns, citing excessive costs as the reason. Surely the ammunition can’t be that expensive…?

Well at a whopping $800,000 (£645,213.33) per round, it’s safe to say they ain’t coming cheap!

The Long Range Land-Attack Projectile (LRLAP) is a guided precision munition which is pretty vital to the mission assigned to the DDG 1000 Zumwalt class of ships. They were designed as land-attack destroyers that are able to hit targets with such accuracy, meaning they could sit out at sea and fire at targets on-land with minimal collateral damage.

The bad news is that the LRLAP is the only ammo designed to be fired from the Advanced Gun System (AGS) on the DDG 1000’s… Each ship packs two 155mm/62-caliber guns, complete with automated magazine and handling system, which are the largest weapons to be designed for and fitted on a warship since World War II.

The LRLAP unit prices increased steadily as the number of Zumwalt-class destroyers were cut. Originally, there was set to be 28 ships, which got reduced to seven, and finally three. However, as the fleet shrunk, the costs did not.

“We were going to buy thousands of these rounds,” said a Navy official familiar with the program. “But quantities of ships killed the affordable round.”

So… What’s next?

So, while the LRLAP might be cancelled, the Navy states they are looking to find another form of ammo for the gun system. The Army’s Excalibur ammo is one option, which costs a mere $68,000 (£54,889.62) per round, whilst the Hyper Velocity Projectile (HVP) which is currently under development by the Office of Naval Research and BAE Systems could also be an option.

Of course, changes to the ammunition will mean changes to the guns itself. Firstly, software changes will need to be done to cope with the new ammo, but adapting the handling system for a different round could be complex.

The magazines would also need adjusting. The automated magazines are currently designed to hold 300 LRLAPs and are sized exactly for those rounds. As other ammo probably won’t be the exact dimensions, changes will be need to be made… Imagine trying to alter air rifles to fire oranges, and you’re probably on the right lines!

Other rounds under development for the 127mm guns currently arming all other US cruisers and destroyers could be adapted, but would need a sabot arrangement to be created to adapt the smaller shell to the 155mm weapon… Basically, the Navy have a massive headache trying to sort all of this out!

Another twist in the tale?

The Navy continue to stress that high costs are directly behind the decision to get rid of the LRLAP system, but could there be deeper issues at play? The projectile and gun system were both developed to provide Marines with support fire whilst they are on land, meaning they had constant back up.

But as the ship moved from shipyard to sea, the Navy have tried to steer everyone away from the support side of things and focus on how cutting-edge the Zumwalt is as a ship. As it stands, there was no requirement for the Advanced Gun System to be able to strike targets on sea, and the system does not have the programming to do so. But Navy officials insist the big guns could be adapted to target ships if necessary, so if they cannot find a replacement for the LRLAP, could they just turn the Zumwalt into another destroyer? To answer that question, I suppose we’ll have to wait and see!


Photo courtesy of Official U.S. Navy Page on Flickr, under Creative Commons