The U.S.S. Zumwalt is the first ship of the Navy’s new DDG-1000 class of Destroyers. The U.S.S. Zumwalt will have a stealthy design, an electrically-powered propulsion system, an advanced gun system capable of firing projectiles 40 to 60 miles, and capability to support two helicopters. However, this new class of ship has generated headlines for being the Navy’s first billion-dollar destroyer. According to DoDBuzz.com, costs for the Zumwalt-class destroyer have soared from $8.9 billion to a projected $12 billion by 2015 for three ships. No matter how you slice it, $4 billion is a lot of money. Taxpayers need answers. Why does the new ship cost so much?
The simple answer is that the cost of the extensive research and development effort that led to the design of the new ship have to be spread across the price tag for all the ships of the class that are bought. Originally, the Navy had planned to buy about 32 ships of a new class then called DD(X). According to a Christian Science Monitor article, as the cost of high technology research crept up, the Navy paired the number of new ships down to 16 in 2003. With development costs spread across many new ships, the price tag per ship was to be less than a $1 billion per ship. However, in 2008, the government decided to buy 3 ships rather than 16. That drove the cost per ship up.
The U.S.S. Zumwalt also incorporates many new technologies that have cost money to develop. According to a Smithsonian magazine article, stealth features include: “a wave-piercing hull that leaves almost no wake; an exhaust suppressor to reduce the vessel’s infrared (heat) signature; and an exterior that slopes inward at a steep angle, creating a radar signature said to be no larger than a fishing boat’s.” The Zumwalt has a lot of automation in order to cut the size of the crew to roughly half the complement of a more conventional destroyer design. Instead of using a conventional centrally-located missile magazine, cruise missiles (like the Tomahawk) will be launched from tubes scattered around the periphery of the ship. This way, the Zumwalt should be able to keep firing despite battle damage. Finally, the Zumwalt’s gas turbines power electrical generators that propel the ship via electric motors. These generators also generate the power for all of the computers and may power lasers or magnetic rail guns in the future. All of these technologies have been costly.
Ultimately, however, the Zumwalt will be able to creep close to a hostile shore line and attack with gunfire or by launching missiles. Despite the costs, the technologies aboard are revolutionary. Hopefully, over time, these innovations will make their way onto vessels with more reasonable price tags.
Elizabeth Barber, “Navy New Destroyer: U.S.S. Zumwalt is Bigger, Badder, than Any Other Destroyer” Christian Science Monitor, October 30, 2013.
Kris Osborn, “DDG 1000 Costs Soar by $3 Billion” DoDBuzz.com, May 6, 2014.
Mark Strauss, “Introducing the U.S.S. Zumwalt, the Stealth Destroyer” Smithsonian Magazine, October 2012