The Navy’s $7 Billion Stealth Destroyer Could Be ‘an Unmitigated Disaster’
Policy + Politics

The Navy’s $7 Billion Stealth Destroyer Could Be ‘an Unmitigated Disaster’

U.S. Navy photo

The USS Zumwalt, the stealth destroyer that was supposed to position America to reign over the high seas, is fast becoming a $7 billion bust, according to an extensive takedown in the conservative National Review Online.

“The Zumwalt was going to be the United States’ 21st-century, cruiser-sized, super destroyer that would allow us to dominate the world’s oceans and littorals for the next 50 years,” writes Mike Fredenburg. 

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But, he concludes, “The Zumwalt is an unmitigated disaster. Clearly it is not a good fit as a frontline warship. With its guns neutered, its role as a primary anti-submarine-warfare asset in question, its anti-air-warfare capabilities inferior to those of our current workhorse, the Arleigh Burke–class destroyers, and its stealth not nearly as advantageous as advertised, the Zumwalt seems to be a ship without a mission.”

What’s more, The National Review tags the Zumwalt as yet another example of military weapons systems whose scope and costs have run amok. When the program was first proposed just before the turn of the century, the Navy estimated that building 32 ships would cost about $46 billion. That’s about $65. billion in 2016 dollars.

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But as costs grew, the Navy first dialed the number of ships back to 16, then seven and now three. The National Review figures that when some $10 billion in development costs is added in, the true price tag is closer to $7 billion for one ship. And the total cost is expected to rise as upgrades are added before the Zumwalt and the other two stealth destroyers are combat-ready.

The power and promise of the Zumwalt was billed as nothing short of awesome:

  • A gun system that can accurately hit targets 70 miles away.
  • The ability to launch cruise missiles, surface-to-air missiles and anti-submarine rockets.
  • A flight deck on the 610-foot, 15,000-ton ship that can accommodate F-35s and MV-22 Ospreys.

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The National Review complains that there has been no accountability for the deficiencies or cost overruns, adding that the lead contractors -- Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics “have received additional hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of defense contracts — even as costs soared, schedules slipped, and capabilities declined.”

In November, about a month after its launch, the Zumwalt broke down in the Panama Canal: Its propellers locked and it had to be towed.