Coming Up Craps on Our Super Destroyers

by John Delach

Coming Up Craps on Our Super Destroyers

John Delach

April 2023

From time to time, we buy into radical thinking designed to short-cut and rapidly advance “what if” weapons faster and further than conventional  wisdom believed to be possible. Usually, we put our faith into the hands of the champions of this thinking, those so called  “Whiz Kids,” whose “what if’s” all too often, end in failures.

Robert McNamara, the chief Whiz-Kid of the Kennedy administration as Secretary of Defense, forced a complete reorganization of our armed services. Long story short, and with no love for Mac and what he did, his biggest success was forcing the army to abandon brown shoes in favor of the black ones worn by all the other branches.

His biggest failure was the F-111, Aardvark. This fighter / bomber he decreed would work as well for the Air Force as it would for the Navy. Despised by both air forces, it worked for neither. The Air Force and the Navy quickly abandoned it as soon as they could, the USAF, in favor of the F-15 Eagle, and the Navy, for the F-14 Tomcat. Both aircraft served well and, of this writing, the F-15 remains in service.

It seems we will never learn that “short cuts” and “quantum leaps forward” just don’t work out as planned.  Again and again, we tend to believe the “Big Brains” and their malarkey that a new advanced technology is the answer to solving unsolvable problems that, in reality, don’t need solving.

We are still suffering from the consequences of the decisions by Donald Rumsfeld and others, going back to President George Herbert Walker Bush, (41), that advanced three major projects. Each incorporated weapon systems based on a new paradigm, “Leap Ahead Technology.”

The exact meaning of Leap Ahead Technology is lost to history. Success has a thousand fathers; failure is an orphan. Another instance where think tank, big brain so-called wunderkind analysts convinced DC policy makers that their latest, greatest new-think weapon solutions are in fact: “The way the truth and the light.”

Leap Ahead Technology gave us the terribly flawed Elmo Zumwalt class destroyers, the F-34 Lightning II fighter and the Gerald Ford class nuclear aircraft carriers. Leap Ahead Technology’s goal was to incorporate the next generation of technology into these new weapons by relying on unproven systems still in development. This produced multi-billion-dollar crap shoots that a broad array of new technologies would reach maturity before they became operational.

The lead ship was named after Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, who was the innovative and popular Chief of Naval Operations from 1970 to 1974. When I wrote about the Zumwalt’s in 2015, I noted: “Back in 2009, the GAO “…found that four out of 15 critical technologies in the Zumwalts’ design were fully mature. Six were approaching maturity but five would not be fully mature until after installation.”

So much went wrong that the navy cut the order from 32 ships to three and deemed that this trio would be utilized, “…as state of the art platforms for experimental weapons such as lasers and electromagnetic rail guns… The cost, $4.2 billion for each ship, did not include an additional $10 billion in development costs plus invoices still to come to make these systems workable.” 

 “They are unable to fulfill the original intended role of multipurpose destroyer warships, while the scale of cost overruns brings the viability of the program into question even if the destroyers were able to function as intended.”

Sebastian Roblin, a military expert called the destroyers an “Ambitious but failed ship concept “

Roblin noted that the ship’s long-range land-attack projectile guided shells cost roughly $800,000 each-about the same price as a cruise missile. Sad to say, the contract to purchase these shells was cancelled after the guns had been installed in the lead ship. Think about it, our destroyer for the Twenty First Century went to sea with state-of-the-art weapons, but no ammunition!

“The Zumwalts lacked several vital features, including anti-ship missiles, anti-submarine torpedoes and long-range area-anti-air defense missiles. A complete and utter failure.

Finally, the navy recently declared a moratorium on new destroyer design and construction until 2032. They will continue building their tried-and-true Arleigh Burke-class destroyers first built in 1988 while new designs are tested out. This will allow the Burkes to have the longest construction period of any class of ships in the navy, 44 years. 

Meanwhile, the three Zumwalts will live in limbo until the navy feels that decommissioning is no longer a major embarrassment.

DD 1001 was named after Michael Monsoor, a Navy Seal, who was killed in Iraq during Desert Storm and DD 1002, named after President Lyndon Johnson.

Funny, Ike, Washington, Lincoln, Truman, Bush 41, Ford and JFK all had front line carriers named for them.

Not so LBJ. Sorry, Lyndon, at least they can’t blame you for this fiasco.