Navy preps stealthy USS Zumwalt for new lasers, missiles and guns

Lasers, global strike weapons, hypervelocity projectiles, maneuvering Tomahawk missiles and precision-guided deck-mounted guns… are all part of the Navy’s design for its new stealthy warship… the USS Zumwalt.

The first-of-its-kind ship, on the fast-track to operational status by just next year, was designed for the specific purpose of integrating these kinds of future maritime attack weapons. With this in mind, the Navy has been working on combat activation with the ship, live-fire exercises and technical preparations for new weapons.

These weapons, according to Zumwalt Program Manager Capt. Kevin Smith, include the Maritime Strike Tomahawk, SM-6 missile, a Tactical Common Data Link to network helicopters with surface ships and the possible integration of new long-range precision rounds for its 5-inch guns.

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“We are now learning how to fight with the ship and taking it out on patrols,” Smith said in January at the Surface Navy Association Symposium, Arlington, Va.

Laser weapons, which are already operational on Navy surface ships, are also part of the plan for the Zumwalt, as it was engineered with an Integrated Power System electric drive. This not only brings quieter, stealthier, more efficient propulsion to the ship with 78-megawatt generators but also enables a level of on-board power necessary for lasers.

“Right now there is a lot of development going on with lasers, including work on a road map that goes out into the future. We have space, weight and power on this ship class to incorporate that kind of capability in the future,” Smith said.

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The Tomahawk missile has been an effective attack weapon for decades, providing the technical basis for the Navy's current effort to fast-track the Maritime Strike Tomahawk. This new weapon takes the existing Block IV Tomahawk to a new level by adding new seeker and guidance technology - enabling the weapon to hit moving targets at sea. This is a substantial step forward in attack capability, as it will give sea commanders the option to hit enemy ships on the move from hundreds of miles away. The existing Tomahawk, while armed with GPS guidance, a 900-mile range, drone-like loitering ability and two-way targeting data link is used as a way to attack fixed targets such as enemy buildings, command and control or other facilities.

The USS Zumwalt is built with a high-tech, long-range, BAE-built Advanced Gun System designed to find and hit targets with precision from much farther ranges than existing deck-mounted ship guns.

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Most deck-mounted 5-inch guns currently on Navy ships are limited to firing roughly 8-to-10 miles at targets within the horizon or what’s called line of sight. The Advanced Gun System, however, is being developed to fire rounds beyond-the-horizon at targets more than three times that distance.

The Navy had been planning to have the gun fire a Long-Range Land Attack Projectile but is now exploring different ammunition options.

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“The guns are in lay-up, we are still looking at other options,” Smith said, adding that the ship might wind up firing the hypervelocity projectile originally developed for an electromagnetic rail gun.