Combat systems and railguns will be added after initial construction for new Zumwalt Destroyers

The US Navy is still considering putting an electric-powered gun aboard a Maine-built destroyer, but the futuristic weapon would be installed after the ship is built, a top Navy officer said.

The construction schedule is too far along to install an electromagnetic railgun aboard the Lyndon B. Johnson at Bath Iron Works, “but it’s certainly an option after the ship leaves the yard,” said Rear Adm. Pete Fanta, director of surface warfare.

Fanta proposed skipping the step of putting a prototype weapon aboard another ship this year and instead putting an operational gun aboard the Lyndon B. Johnson.

Railguns use pulses of electricity to fire projectiles at six to seven times the speed of sound, producing enough kinetic energy to destroy targets.

It’s one of several technologies the Navy is considering to increase firepower at a lower cost than missiles. Fanta said it’s an engineering race to discover the best system.

“The way we put it to the research and development team is, ‘You’ve got to earn your way aboard,'” Fanta said. “I want to make sure I’m not putting a science project aboard. I want to make sure I’m putting a war-fighting effort on board.”

The Lyndon B. Johnson is the third and final destroyer in the Zumwalt class under construction at Bath Iron Works, a General Dynamics subsidiary.

The destroyers make an attractive platform for a railgun, laser system or other energy-based weapons because it uses powerful marine turbines to help produce up to 78 megawatts of electricity for use in propulsion, weapons and sensors.

The guided missile destroyer Zumwalt (DDG-1000) left today for a final set of builder’s trails ahead of an expected delivery to the U.S. Navy next month It is scheduled to be commissioned on October 15, 2016

The ship is expected to deliver to the service in April with the completion of its hull, mechanical and electrical systems (HM&E) ahead of a transit to California where the ship will be outfitted with its combat system and sensors.

Constructing and testing Zumwalt’s complicated integrated power system – which use the ship’s gas turbines and diesel generators to power a complex electrical grid inside the ship instead of a direct mechanical connection to the ship’s props – has taken more time than expected and the schedule has slipped past its expected delivery date.

BIW is currently building three of the ships as part of a $22 billion program for the class and well the restarted Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyers (DDG-51).

Saving the combat system upgrade for San Diego was a decision the Navy made to free up manufacturing space at the Maine yard.

Destroyer Zumwalt (DDG-1000) is underway on Dec. 7, 2015. US Navy Photo

The large price tag of the Zumwalt (the lead ship is estimated to cost more than $4.4 billion) and concern over the Zumwalt’s seaworthiness made the U.S. Navy cut down its order from 32 to three (some sources two) new guided missile destroyers.

Once operational, the new destroyer will be one of the most heavily armed surface naval weapons platforms of the U.S. Navy, capable of striking its targets from a long distance. “Each ship features a battery of two Advanced Gun Systems (AGS) firing Long-Range Land Attack Projectiles (LRLAP) that reach up to 63 nautical miles [72 miles, 115 kilometers], providing a three-fold range improvement in naval surface fires coverage,” according to the U.S. Navy website.

The U.S. Navy is also thinking of arming the Zumwalt with combat lasers and electromagnetic railguns. The ship can produce up to 78 megawatts of energy and features a special Integrated Power System (IPS).

SOURCES – Military Times, USNI News