USS Zumwalt: The US Navy is sending its most advanced surface warship to East Asia

Seoul, South Korea

The US Navy’s most advanced surface warship is showing off its stealth profile in the western Pacific Ocean in a mission that could set the stage for the eventual deployment of US hypersonic missiles in the region.

The USS Zumwalt is the first in a class of multi-mission guided missile destroyers that the Navy says will “create a new level of battlespace complexity for potential adversaries.”

In the Pacific, one of those potential adversaries is, of course, China, and Zumwalt will certainly have Beijing’s attention.

“The presence of a stealth warship will generate a lot of (Chinese) interest,” especially if the Zumwalt is equipped with hypersonic weapons, said analyst Carl Schuster, a former U.S. Navy captain.

And that time may not be far away.

An August report from the US Naval Institute said the Zumwalt will be upgraded next year to accommodate the Pentagon’s Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB), a weapon system that uses a rocket booster motor to launch missiles at hypersonic speeds.

According to a May 2022 report by the Congressional Research Service, “The C-HGB will be maneuverable, harder to detect and intercept, and can travel at Mach 5 or greater … five times faster than the speed of sound or at most. 13,000 miles (20,921 kilometers) per hour .

“The C-HGB target is capable of being destroyed by its speed alone,” the report said.

After making a port call in Guam last week, the Zumwalt arrived in Japan on Monday, social media posts showed.

A Navy statement said the warship has been assigned to Destroyer Squadron 15, the US Navy’s largest destroyer squadron based outside the United States, operating from Yokosuka Naval Base near Tokyo.

At 610 feet (185 meters) long and displacing 16,000 metric tons, the Zumwalt is “the world’s largest and most technologically advanced surface combatant,” according to a Navy fact sheet.

In contrast, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the backbone of the US Navy’s fleet, are about 100 feet (30 meters) shorter with a displacement of under 10,000 tons.

China’s largest surface combatant, the Type 055 destroyer, displaces about 12,000 to 13,000 tons.

But while China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy cannot match Zumwalt’s in size, it can certainly win the battle for quantity.

The US Navy will only have three Zumwalt-class ships, the others being the USS Michael Mansoor and the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson.

The PLA Navy has six active Type 055s and more are expected to come as part of a massive shipbuilding effort to make China’s naval fleet the largest in the world by the US.

The USS Zumwalt is armed It has 80 vertical launch cells for missiles that can hit land and sea targets as well as anti-submarine missiles, but the Type 055 has 112 launch cells capable of the same tasks.

The US Army says the Zumwalt has a number of innovations, the most striking of which is its stealthy design.

“The hull design of the wave-piercing hull has facilitated a wide range of advances. The composite superstructure significantly reduces the radar cross-section and other signatures, making the ship more difficult to detect by enemies at sea,” according to the Navy’s fact sheet.

The Zumwalt class of destroyers has been a controversial and expensive program for the US Navy. Including research and development costs, the three ships in the class cost about $8 trillion each, according to a 2018 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to Congress.

That price tag per ship would have been reduced considerably if the Navy had gone ahead with its original plan to build 32 of the large destroyers, but that number was reduced to the current three after the service decided the Zumwalt class would require major modifications. perform an anti-ballistic missile defense mission, something Arleigh Burkes could have done more cheaply, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The boats have also been slow to run. The Zumwalt was commissioned in 2016, but it took four years for the Navy to accept the final delivery from shipbuilder General Dynamics after all its systems were checked.

While a warship’s moves are typically referred to as a deployment, the Navy does not use that term for the Zumwalt’s presence in the Pacific, a Navy official said.

“While the ship and crew are engaged as ships would normally be, their employment is part of the fleet integration process to introduce a ship class into an operational environment and better understand how it can work with other ships/platforms,” ​​the official said. he said

Schuster, the Hawaii-based analyst, called Zumwalt’s moves “more political than military” until the Navy ships those hypersonic weapons.

“At more than $8 trillion each, the Navy is currently struggling to find a mission for these armed vessels,” he said.

However, he said, he will give the PLA Army something to think about.