The USS Zumwalt class will be the first US Navy ships armed with hypersonic missiles.
Lockheed Martin has secured a contract worth a potential $2 billion to install Conventional Prompt Strike (CPS) hypersonic missile launchers on the US Navy’s three Zumwalt-class destroyers by the middle of the decade.
When the Zumwalt class was conceived, it was intended as the “21st-century destroyer” that would meet the needs of the US Navy in a changing world. Unlike earlier destroyers, the Zumwalt would be a technological marvel that would incorporate all sorts of advanced systems inside a stealth tumbledown hull that wouldn’t look out of place in a futuristic movie, yet had the radar profile of a fishing boat.
The Zumwalt would not only be larger than other destroyers, but also many cruisers and it would pack the long-range firepower of a battleship. But what truly made the Zumwalt concept stand out was its role, which was that of a multi-mission warship that could be used in littoral seas to support land operations, yet also take to blue water areas for surface, anti-aircraft, and other tasks.
The problem was that the Zumwalt project was plagued by controversies by the time USS Zumwalt was launched in 2016. Production delays, cost overruns that brought in a price tag per ship of US$8 billion, and the embarrassment of the class ship breaking down in the middle of the Panama Canal, plus questions about its design, resulted in only three out of a planned 32 being built.
For years, the Zumwalt class had the dubious reputation of being a trio of ships without a mission, but the new Lockheed contract will see it become the first to carry the CPS surface-launched, sea-based hypersonic strike missiles. Capable of controlled flight at speeds in excess of Mach 5, these will be so fast that they can penetrate current air defense systems and have enough inertial energy to destroy a target simply by impact.
Under the contract, Lockheed and subcontractors Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics Mission Systems will provide launcher systems, weapon control, platform integration, and All Up Rounds (AURs), which are the integrated missile components.
In addition, Lockheed will supply AURs plus canisters to the US Army for its Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW). The common AUR means that hypersonic missiles can be launched from ships, submarines, land-based mobile launchers, and other platforms.
“Lockheed Martin continues to advance hypersonic strike capability for the United States through this new contract,” said Steve Layne, vice president of Hypersonic Strike Weapon Systems at Lockheed Martin. “Early design work is already underway. Our team looks forward to supporting the war fighter by providing more options to further protect America at sea.”
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