It would be risky.
Creating what would amount to an American pocket battleship, operating alone on the high seas in the face of the enemy, is a risky proposition. Still, the concentration of firepower such a ship could bring to bear also makes it an attractive one, and the ship’s stealthy nature, extensive defensive-weapons capability, and America’s lead in military communications and networking all give it an edge in survivability. While it may mean a few more years in the shipyard, especially for the lead ship already commissioned into the fleet, what will emerge is a ship more suited for the growing task for sinking enemy ships. From the progress America’s potential adversaries are making in shipbuilding, that task isn’t going away anytime soon.
The three new Zumwalt-class destroyers are in trouble. Originally envisioned as a fleet of more nearly three dozen destroyers, and the weapons that justified them, the Zumwalts have faced delays, cuts and staggering cost increases. As the ships teeter on the verge of white elephant status, could they become relevant again by taking on a new role, that of a stealthy ship killer?
The Zumwalt-class destroyers were originally envisioned as a fleet of thirty-two destroyers designed to attack targets far inland with precision-guided howitzer shells. Designed in part to support amphibious landings by the U.S. Marine Corps, the Zumwalts were meant to make up for the lack of big-gun firepower caused by the retirement of the Iowa-class destroyers.
Unfortunately, cost overruns and technical problems caused the Pentagon to trim the number of Zumwalts to just three ships. Even worse, the service has decided the long-range attack-projectile shells that justified the ships are too expensive to purchase. This puts the remaining fleet in a poor position to support future naval landings, as only one ship is likely to be at sea at any given time.