A Billion Here, A Billion There…

by John Delach

“A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen, Illinois

 

The USS Zumwalt, DDG 1000, is the lead vessel of a new class of US Navy guided missile destroyers designed to be, “Multi-mission stealth ships with a focus on land attack.”

 

If you think that sounds like new-speak, let me put it another way; Zumwalt, named for Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr. and her two sister-ships, DDG 1001, the USS Michael Monsoon, named for a Navy Seal awarded the Medal of Honor and, DDG 1002, the USS Lyndon B. Johnson will cost the American taxpayers at least $22 billion.

 

First proposed in 1994, the lead ship will not become operational until 2018 at the earliest. Meanwhile, the cost of building this class of vessels has become so out-of-control that the number of ships was cut from 32 first to 24, then to seven and finally to just these three. Not only that, but during the course of development, the Navy admitted to Congress in 2010 that these 14,000 tonners weren’t going to be up to their design tasks and asked for eight additional Arleigh Burke destroyers, the class the Zumwalts were expected to replace. They even offered to suspend the two already under construction at Bath iron Works in Maine and cancel the third as a trade-off.

 

But the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Senator Susan Collins from Maine would have none of that so the navy got their eight Arleigh Burkes while funding continued for three Zumwalts.

 

So what are we getting for our tax dollars at work? Three 600 foot long ships at a building cost of $4.3 billion (it was $3.96 billion three years ago) each powered by Rolls-Royce gas turbines driving Curtis-Wright electric generators providing ten times the power available on current destroyers. This is important as almost all the weapon systems are electrically powered including some not yet ready for prime time like the rail gun.

 

This idea of building weapons before all of the systems are operational is an insanity that the military has adopted. The same problems infect F-35 fighter program and the CVN-79, Gerald Ford aircraft carrier class. Back in 2009, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) “…found that four out of 12 of the critical technologies in the Zumwalts’ design were fully mature. Six were ‘approaching maturity’ but five would not be fully mature until after installation. Now that’s one hell of a way to build a ship!

 

Their physical appearance is nothing to write home about either. The Boston Globe’s Christopher Rowland recently described them: “With sharp angels and sleek surfaces that evoke Hollywood science fiction, the Zumwalts… are the weirdest-looking warships…”

“…Picture an Aztec pyramid welded atop a machete blade.” The bow is inverted giving a similar appearance to battleships and cruisers that fought in the Spanish-American War in 1898. This is all done in the name of stealth to limit the ships’ radar signature. On paper, it is no bigger than a fishing boat. In return the ships stability in hurricane-force weather is being questioned.

 

But wait, wait…with only three units, the mission remains unclear and the suggestion has been advanced that they be utilized “…as state-of-the-art platforms for experimental weapons such as lasers and electromagnetic rail guns.” I kid you not!

 

James R. Holmes, a professor of strategy at the Naval War College noted, “I wouldn’t describe fleet experimentation as the ‘best’ use for the Zumwalts, but more as a way to make lemonade out of lemons.”

 

To which I would reply, “Professor, you can’t shine shit!”