(CNN) — The US Navy’s most advanced surface warship is showing its covert profile in the western Pacific 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 of a class of three multimission guided-missile destroyers that the Navy says will “create a new level of complexity on the battlefield for potential adversaries.”
In the Pacific, one such potential adversary is clearly China, and Zumwalt will certainly attract Beijing’s attention.
“The presence of a stealth warship would attract a lot of (Chinese) interest,” said analyst Carl Schuster, a former US Navy captain, “especially if the Zumwalt is equipped with hypersonic weapons.”
And that time cannot be far away.
An August report from the US Naval Institute said the Zumwalt would be upgraded next year to accommodate the Pentagon’s Common Hypersonic Glide Corps (C-HGB), a weapons system designed to fire missiles at hypersonic speeds. The booster uses a rocket motor.
According to a May 2022 Congressional Research Service report, “C-HGB must be maneuverable, which makes it more difficult to detect and intercept and can exceed Mach 5 or … at least five times faster.” can travel by.” 13,000 miles (20,921 kilometers) per hour compared to the speed of sound or above.
“The C-HGB is designed to be able to destroy targets based on their speed alone,” the report said.
After making a port call in Guam last week, Zumwalt arrived in Japan on Monday, said Lieutenant Mark Langford, a spokesman for the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet.
The battleship has been assigned to the US Navy’s largest destroyer squadron, Destroyer Squadron 15, headquartered outside the United States, which operates from Yokosuka Naval Base near Tokyo, a Navy statement said.
“The Zumwalt plays an integral role in maintaining our competitive advantage and keeping our allies and partners in the region safe,” said Lt. Catherine Serrano, spokeswoman for Destroyer Squadron 15.
Zumwalt overtakes other American destroyers
According to the Navy Fact Sheet, 610 feet (185 m) long and with a displacement of 16,000 metric tons, the Zumwalt is “the world’s largest and most technologically advanced surface fighter”.
In contrast, the Earle Burke-class destroyers, the backbone of the US Navy’s fleet, are about 100 feet (30 m) smaller and have a displacement of less than 10,000 tons.
China’s largest surface fighter, the Type 055 destroyer, displaces between 12,000 and 13,000 tons.
But while the Chinese People’s Liberation Army can’t match the size of the Navy Zumwalt, it can certainly win a massive number of battles.
The US Navy will have just three Zumwalt-class ships, the others being the USS Michael Mansoor and the future USS Lyndon B.
The Chinese Navy has six active Type 055s, which are expected to arrive as part of a massive shipbuilding program that has seen the Chinese Navy’s fleet surpass the US to become the world’s largest.
The USS Zumwalt is equipped with 80 vertical launch cells for missiles that can target land and sea targets as well as anti-submarine rockets, but the Type 055 has 112 launch cells capable of similar tasks.
The US Navy says the Zumwalt has a number of innovations, most notably its stealthy design.
“Wave-piercing RV hull design has facilitated a wide range of advancements. The overall superstructure significantly reduces radar cross section and other signatures, making the ship more difficult to detect by enemies at sea,” According to the Navy fact sheet.
The Zumwalt-class destroyers have been a controversial and costly program for the US Navy. Taking into account research and development costs, the three ships of the class are worth approximately $8 billion, according to a 2018 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. to Congress.
Had the Navy gone ahead with its original plan to build 32 giant destroyers, the cost per ship would have been significantly lower, but after the decision to service the Zumwalt-class required a considerable amount of modifications, this number rose to the current three. decreased. To perform ballistic missile defense missions, the Earl Burke-class can do something more cheaply, according to the Congressional Research Service.
Ships have also been slow to come online. The Zumwalt was commissioned in 2016, but it took four years for the Navy to accept final delivery from shipbuilder General Dynamics after all of its systems were verified.
While a warship’s movements are usually called deployment, the Navy does not use that term for the Zumwalt’s current presence in the Pacific, a Navy official said.
“While the ship and crew operate as vessels, their employment is part of the fleet integration process to introduce a class of ship to the operational environment and understand how it works best with other ships/platforms.” How can it work?” Officer.
Hawaii-based analyst Schuster called Zumwalt’s move “more political than military” until the Navy could get those hypersonic weapons on board.
“With more than $8 billion each, the Navy is struggling to find a mission for these lightly armed vessels,” he said.
Still, he said, it would give the Chinese navy something to think about.