• The USS Zumwalt has been plagued by design modifications and budget overruns
  • Proposed upgrades mean that the USS Zumwalt will take more years for its first deployment with hypersonic weapons
  • Zumwalt will reportedly go into the dry dock in late 2023

Amid the rapid expansion of the Chinese PLA Navy coinciding with the steady shrinking and decline of the U.S. Navy's capabilities marred by deployment delays, cost overruns and severe maintenance issues, the advanced stealth warship USS Zumwalt is back from its Pacific deployment for major upgrades, which the Navy hopes will be worth the effort and investment.

A report by The War Zone has highlighted many uncertainties and challenges that the Navy is facing on the question of making investments in upgrades to its much-feted USS Zumwalt, which has been plagued by design modifications and budget overruns.

As reported in September, the USS Zumwalt — the U.S. Navy's first in a class of three multi-mission guided missile destroyers — was deployed in the Western Pacific on a mission to test the ship's capabilities and reliability, paving the way for the eventual deployment of U.S. hypersonic missiles in the region. The other ships in the class are the USS Michael Mansoor and the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson.

However, the Zumwalt class of destroyer warships has struggled to meet the Navy's planned objectives, and the program has been controversial and expensive since its start, with each vessel now reportedly costing upward of $9 billion, according to a 2022 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to Congress.

Although the Zumwalt was commissioned in Oct. 2016, the Navy accepted its final delivery only in April 2020. In 2018, the Navy changed the destroyers' primary purpose from land attack to offensive surface strike, a modification which, according to the GAO, cost about $1 billion.

The Navy also faced criticism from GAO for the 155 mm deck guns originally planned for the Zumwalt-class destroyers, which would have cost about $800,000 for a single round of ammunition. Meanwhile, the Navy also had to cut down on its original plans to buy more than two dozen of the new ships to only three.

As part of its proposed upgrades, the Navy now plans to add and integrate advanced hypersonic missiles for a longer range. These hypersonic missile units will come from the Navy's Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) program, the War Zone report stated. The plan is to integrate up to 12 hypersonic boost-glide vehicle-equipped missiles into the hull of all three Zumwalt-class destroyers.

But, as the report pointed out, the challenge which the Navy will face is finding the space to house these missiles, given that the destroyers' existing Mk 57 Vertical Launch System (VLS) arrays are too small. To overcome this obstacle, the Navy proposes to install new Large Missile Vertical Launch Systems, according to the report.

Capt. Shea Thompson, the commodore of the Surface Development Squadron 1, said that the Zumwalt will go into the dry dock in late 2023, following which the hypersonic missiles will be outfitted, USNI News reported. The warship will then undergo several months of testing, after which it will take over a year for its first deployment with the hypersonic weapons.

The news comes at a time when concerns are being raised in Washington about Beijing's efforts to achieve rapid naval modernization, which could put the U.S. Navy at a disadvantage.

The future guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) departs Bath, Maine to conduct acceptance trials, April 20, 2016. Reuters