House Defense Bill Pushes Hypersonic Weapons for Zumwalt Destroyers
Specifically, the bill calls for the Navy to start integration efforts on the Zumwalt class no later than Jan. 1, 2021.
Commander of Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Rich Brown has expressed interest in putting hypersonic weapons on the Zumwalt class, saying that the ship’s larger size, power generation and missile launcher compared to the Arleigh Burke-class DDG made it a great host for the conventional prompt strike weapon.
“I have got to tell you, I am thoroughly impressed with the capabilities that that destroyer will bring into our fleet. As a matter of fact, I would love to have six more of them, because the capabilities are that good. If you look at conventional prompt strike, I can think of no other better platform than to put conventional prompt strike on that platform. And then once that happens, or if that happens, make no mistake, it will put the fear of god into our adversaries once we marry those two platforms together,” he said during a media call.
The report to Congress that the NDAA language mandates would begin to address some thorny issues related to use of force, risk of escalation, command and control and more.
The submarine community has worked out some of these issues, having a Navy platform using a national strategic weapon – nuclear missiles – in its Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) program. Though it would be the Virginia-class SSNs firing off strategic hypersonic CPGS weapons – and those crews would have to manage having both strategic weapons for national tasking as well as their own weapons for self-defense and strike missions within their Navy fleet chain of command – it’s likely that some of the submarine community’s understanding of command and control, underwater communications, and training for national tasking could be put in place on the attack subs.
However, no surface ships today are equipped with these kinds of strategic weapons and have to deal with these kinds of issues.
This would be an interesting development to follow though I suspect, the move, in large part, is motivated by the desire of the democrat led House to wean away the US Navy from conventional prompt strike off of submarines given their previous objection based on unsubstantiated and nonsensical arguments around launch ambiguity.
The USN for its part has quietly hinted at removing one, or both, of the AGS on the Zumwalt class and replacing it with a conventional gun and the Virginia Payload Module (adding the VP tubes right out of the submarine design) so that it can accommodate the large diameter (30+ inches) 4000+ km intermediate range hypersonic glide weapons. Alternatively, they could try squeezing the more advanced high L/D wedge shaped H-BGV that Lockheed and Raytheon are developing for the USAF (AGM-183 A and B ) and DARPA, and have it sit atop a smaller diameter booster. Though I suspect that would not be an intermediate ranged weapon which then calls into question the need for something in the 1000 mile class as apposed to something 2x or 3x of that. The additional range will be a game changer in the Pacific theater and would severely call into question the need for the US Army to field a similar weapon (the Hypersonic CPS capability actually IOC's with the US Army in 2023) given the basing challenges of land based intermediate range systems..That may not sit well with the Army focused top brass at the Pentagon (SecDef and JC).
The three Zumwalt class destroyers, along with the SSN fleet could carry the mission through the 2020's, and into early to mid 2030's (along with USAF bombers, and possibly fighters), while the Large Surface Combatant (Ticonderoga replacement) comes in during the 2030's in larger numbers.