The U.S. Navy’s new first-in-class stealthy USS Zumwalt destroyer destroyed an approaching Anti-Ship Cruise missile with a SM-2 missile as part of a series of incremental steps to prepare the ship for war, by as soon as next year.
It was a live-fire test, according to a report from Naval Sea Systems Command, wherein the SM-2 was fired from a Mk57 Vertical Launching System at Naval Air Weapons Center Weapons Division Sea Test Range, Point Mugu.
“The structural test fire assessed the material readiness of the ship against shock and vibration of the weapon firing, as well as measure any hazards or degradations as a result of firing live ordnance,” the NAVSEA report stated.
As part of a deliberate effort to engineer a stealthy, more versatile warship, Navy developers built the Zumwalt’s Vertical Launch Systems around the periphery of the ship, instead of in a concentrated or condensed area as they are on existing DDG 51 Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers. This spreads out the heat signature in the event that more than one are fired, reducing the heat signature to lower detectability to enemy infrared sensors. This also brings a survivability advantage, as the ship might be more likely to sustain attack functionality in the event that part of the hull is damaged by attack. Other VLS around the outer boundary of the hull would likely still be able to function if one or two were disabled.
At 610 feet long and 80 feet wide, Zumwalt is 100 feet longer and 13 feet wider than the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, in part to enable these kinds of innovations. The ship is built with a smooth, blended external structure and built with almost no protruding vertical structures, masts or weapons as part of a clear effort to reduce its radar signature, while still preserving warfighting capability. It also has an electric drive and Integrated Power System intended to generate more onboard electrical power for computing as well as new weaponry such as lasers.
Firing an SM-2 to destroy an anti-ship missile aligns entirely with the Navy’s strategic vision for the ship which, in recent years, has evolved beyond thinking of the platform as primarily for land attack and instead thinking of the ship as more of an open, or blue-water major warfare maritime platform on the open seas. The idea is to not only use a low radar signature and long-range precision weapons to attack fixed inland targets and coastal areas but operate farther offshore as a major warfare attack platform. This mission envelope would include the need to both fire and defend against long-range incoming attacks.
Destroying an approaching threat with an SM-2 appears to be a clear step within the combat activation process to fire even longer-range interceptor missiles such as an SM-6 or SM-3 ballistic missile interceptor. SM-2s are part of an integrated, layered network of ship defenses capable of tracking, handing off and destroying a wide sphere of possible enemy attacks.
Kris Osborn is the new Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.