The US Navy’s taking a hard look at hypervelocity railgun rounds for the Zumwalt destroyers that still don’t have any ammo

  • The Navy is considering arming the ammoless Zumwalt destroyers with hypervelocity railgun rounds.
  • The service successfully test-fired hypervelocity projectiles, rounds designed for railguns, out of the standard Mk 45 5-inch deck guns aboard the destroyer USS Dewey during last year’s Rim of the Pacific exercises.
  • The test has apparently created new possibilities for the Zumwalt.
  • “That is one thing that has been considered with respect to capability for this ship class,” Zumwalt program manager Capt. Kevin Smith revealed recently, according to USNI News.

The embattled Zumwalt-class destroyers still don’t have any ammunition, but the US Navy has an idea, or at least the beginnings of an idea.

The Navy has invested hundreds of millions of dollars and more than a decade into railgun research, which has run up against several technological roadblocks. But while the railgun may not turn out to be a worthwhile project, the railgun rounds seem to show promise.

The Navy fired nearly two dozen hypervelocity projectiles (HVPs) – special rounds initially designed for electromagnetic railguns – from the Mk 45 5-inch deck gun aboard the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Dewey at one point during last year’s Rim of the Pacific exercises, USNI News first reported. The guns are the same 40-year-old guns that come standard on cruisers and destroyers.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) fires its M45 5-inch gun as part of a live-fire exercise, Nov. 2, 2018.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham (DDG 109) fires its Mk 45 5-inch gun. U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Intelligence Specialist Matt Bodenner/Released

Read more: The US Navy reportedly fired new hyper velocity railgun rounds out of 40-year-old deck guns – here’s why

The same concept could presumably be applied to the 155 mm Advanced Gun Systems (AGS) aboard the Zumwalt-class destroyers. “That is one thing that has been considered with respect to capability for this ship class. We’re looking at a longer-range bullet that’s affordable, and so that’s one thing that’s being considered,” Capt. Kevin Smith, a program manager for the Zumwalt, revealed at the Surface Navy Association Symposium, USNI News reported Tuesday.

“The surface Navy is really excited about this capability,” he added, saying that nothing has been decided.

This is apparently only one of several possibilities. “There are a lot of things that we’re looking at as far as deeper magazines with other types of weapons that have longer range,” Smith said. Previous considerations have included the Raytheon Excalibur 155 mm guided artillery, but that plan was abandoned.

USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000)
USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000). US Navy

Read more: The destroyer Zumwalt’s big guns don’t have any ammo, and the Navy may ditch them entirely because they don’t even work right

The Zumwalt’s 155 mm AGS guns, intended to strike targets farther than 80 miles away, are ridiculously expensive to fire – a single Long Range Land Attack Projectile costs almost $US1 million. Procurement was shut down two years ago, leaving the Zumwalt without any ammunition.

Since then, the Navy has been looking hard at other alternatives.

The Navy “will be developing either the round that goes with that gun or what we are going to do with that space if we decide to remove that gun in the future,” Vice Adm. William Merz, the deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems, told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s seapower subcommittee in November, Breaking Defence reported at the time.

So, if the Navy can’t find suitable ammunition for the stealth destroyers, it may end up scrapping the guns altogether to be replaced with something else down the road.

Despite repeated setbacks, which include everything from loss of stealth to engine and electrical problems, the Navy said “the ship is doing fine.” Merz told Congress that the vessel should be operational by 2021.