The Navy is asking Congress for funding to equip its most technologically advanced surface ships, the Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers, with new weapons designed to turn them into long-range ship killers, according to budget documents spotted by Defense News.
One of the new weapons is Raytheon’s SM-6 missile, which serves three purposes: anti-air, anti-surface, and ballistic-missile defense.
Unlike its older brother, the SM-3, the SM-6 has a proximity charge that explodes near its target, meaning it does not have to make physical contact with whatever it is intercepting.
In a test of the missile’s anti-ship capability in March 2016, an SM-6 from an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer took out the decommissioned Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate USS Reuben James.
Back then, the missile’s range was listed as 250 nautical miles, but it’s now expected to be as long as 268 nautical miles. It also has a speed of Mach 3.5.
The SM-6 has had success in its anti-ballistic-missile tests, with the missile intercepting a target in Hawaii in August.
The other new weapon is Raytheon’s Maritime Strike Tomahawk, a variant of the classic cruise missile designed to destroy moving naval targets.
The missiles would be a much-needed addition to the destroyers, as the ships’ main armament, the 155mm Advanced Gun System, is unusable because it has no ammunition. The kind intended for the guns was deemed too expensive, ranging from $800,000 to $1 million for a single round.
The guns will remain on the destroyers, but “in an inactive status for future use, when a gun round that can affordably meet the desired capability is developed and fielded,” the budget documents say, according to Defense News.
The Navy decided in November to change the Zumwalt-class ships’ role from land-attack to anti-surface warfare, the documents say. The commander of US Pacific Command said in congressional testimony last week that the change was motivated by China’s increasingly capable navy and the need for more surface ships capable of dealing blows in ship-to-ship combat, Defense News reported.
All three Zumwalt-class destroyers will be based in the Pacific, the Defense News report says.
The new missiles would allow the destroyers to work alongside littoral combat ships, which are expected to soon get upgrades to allow them to take on enemy vessels miles away.
There are two Zumwalt-class destroyers. The USS Zumwalt is now in its homeport in San Diego for overhauls and a weapons installation, Defense News reports, while the USS Michael Monsoor completed its acceptance trials early February 2018.