The U.S. Navy's DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyers are extraordinarily expensive. Since 2009, the cost of the ships has increased 34.4 percent, according to the Congressional Research Service. Each of the three Zumwalt's being built will cost taxpayers around $3.4 billion. And, that's on top of the more than $9 billion in research and design funding that has gone into this program.
Are they worth the price? The Navy didn't think so in 2009 when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced the program would end with the procurement of just three ships, down from the 32 ships the Navy had initially planned to buy.
But, now that the first Zumwalt is actually in the water, there's growing concern that this decision may have been penny wise and pound foolish, as it leaves significant voids in the Navy's ability to adapt to future threats. Most notably, ending the Zumwalt program in favor of buying upgraded versions of the decades-old Arleigh-Burke DDG-51 destroyers limits the Navy's capabilities without significantly reducing costs.
While the DDG-51 is designed to be a traditional destroyer that serves a largely defensive role, the DDG-1000 is an immensely powerful battleship. The epitome of this power is the ship's two 155 mm guns, which are the largest guns fitted on any post-World War II ship. The blandly named advanced gun system can devastate targets up to 63 nautical miles away, three times as far as the DDG-5 1 's guns. There are 600 rounds of ammo on the ship, and the guns can keep firing while more ammunition is brought onboard, resulting in what the Navy calls an "infinite magazine."
According to the Zumwalt's commanding officer Capt. James Kirk, "She has got a flight deck almost two times the size of a Burke's," that can accommodate significantly more, and bigger, aircraft.
While its traditional weapons are extraordinary, the Zumwalt's true power lies in its ability to generate, well, power. When the first-of-class Zumwalt lit-off its power generators late last month it became literally the most powerful destroyer in U.S. navy history producing 78 megawatts, enough energy to power about 10,000 homes. Conversely, DDG-51s produce just 9 megawatts of power, with only 1.7 megawatts remaining when the ship is at speed, compared to the 58 megawatts a Zumwalt still has available when traveling at 20 knots.
This extra power gives DDG-1000s the ability to operate electrically powered weapons like the electromagnetic railgun, which uses nothing...