“With its stealth, incredibly capable sonar system, strike capability and lower manning requirements — this is our future,” Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, said in April after visiting the shipyard in Maine where they are being built.
On a visit to a major regional security conference in Singapore that ended Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Navy will be deploying 60 percent of its fleet worldwide to the Pacific by 2020, and though he didn’t cite the stealth destroyers he said new high-tech ships will be a big part of its shift.
The DDG-1000 and other stealth destroyers of the Zumwalt class feature a wave-piercing hull that leaves almost no wake, electric drive propulsion and advanced sonar and missiles. They are longer and heavier than existing destroyers — but will have half the crew because of automated systems and appear to be little more than a small fishing boat on enemy radar.
Down the road, the ship is to be equipped with an electromagnetic railgun, which uses a magnetic field and electric current to fire a projectile at several times the speed of sound.
But cost overruns and technical delays have left many defense experts wondering if the whole endeavor was too focused on futuristic technologies for its own good.
They point to the problem-ridden F-22 stealth jet fighter, which was hailed as the most advanced fighter ever built but was cut short because of prohibitive costs. Its successor, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, has swelled up into the most expensive procurement program in Defense Department history.
“Whether the Navy can afford to buy many DDG-1000s must be balanced against the need for over 300 surface ships to fulfill the various missions that confront it,” said Dean Cheng, a China expert with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative research institute in Washington. “Buying hyperexpensive ships hurts that ability, but buying ships that can’t do the job, or worse can’t survive in the face of the enemy, is even more irresponsible.”