The USS Zumwalt launched a SM-2 missile, testing the ship’s ability to defend itself against cruise missiles

The Zumwalt was commissioned four years ago, but its combat system hasn’t worked until earlier this year

The US Navy destroyer USS Zumwalt

during a recent weapons test.

The Zumwalt, a first-in-class stealth destroyer, test-fired a SM-2 missile from the ship’s launcher last Tuesday at the Naval Air Weapons Center Weapons Division Sea Test Range in Point Mugu, California.

The Zumwalt was commissioned in 2016, but it was not delivered to the US Navy with a functional combat system until earlier this year.

While the Zumwalt programme has faced a number of significant setbacks, including cost overruns and major delays, a big issue was the ship’s main guns – the two 155mm guns of the Advanced Gun System.

When the US Navy reduced its order from roughly 30 ships to just three, the cost of the rounds shot up. A single round of the Long-Range Land Attack Projectile was going to cost almost US$1 million – a figure closer to guided missiles than artillery shells.

And that wasn’t the only problem with the guns. Vice Admiral William Merz, then the deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems, told Congress in 2018 that the guns also lacked the desired range. “We just cannot get the thing to fly as far as we want,” he said, adding that the US Navy was considering getting rid of the guns altogether.

The US Navy was ultimately forced to re-evaluate the combat system and change the ship’s mission. Instead of naval fire support for ground units, the ship has been retasked to an anti-ship combat role.

In May, following the destroyer’s delivery to the fleet, the Zumwalt test-fired the 30mm mark 46 MOD 2 Gun Weapon System, a remotely-operated, high-velocity naval cannon for taking out small, high-speed surface threats, for the first time.

Now, the Zumwalt has also tested its ability to launch missiles. The SM-2 that was test-fired last week is a surface-to-air missile that can also be used against ships, and it showed the Zumwalt can defend itself from an incoming missile. 

Captain Matt Schroeder, the DDG-1000 programme manager, said in a statement that “today’s successful test not only demonstrates the ship’s capability to fire missiles and conduct self-defence, it is also a significant step toward more advanced combat system testing and operations for our Navy’s most technically innovative warship”.

The Zumwalt was expected to achieve initial operating capability in 2021.

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