Navy Will Not Buy Special Rounds for Zumwalt's Guns

Courtesy USN / BAE

Published Nov 7, 2016 8:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

The newly commissioned destroyer Zumwalt is fitted with two advanced cannons, which are designed to fire a precision-guided munition called the Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP). The guns have an automated reloading system and can fire one round every six seconds to a maximum range of 60 nm.

However, the Navy has decided that since the Zumwalt program has been cut back to three ships – down from a planned series of 32 – the LRLAP has become too expensive to procure.

A small production run of the munition would mean a price tag north of $800,000 per round, and likely more, reports Defense News. This puts it within range of the $1.4 million cost of the Tomahawk missiles it would have replaced. 

“We were going to buy thousands of these rounds,” a Navy official told Defense News. “But [small] quantities of ships killed the affordable round.” 

The official added that there were no problems at all with the LRLAP and gun system – only the unit price of the ammunition. The Navy says that it will procure a lower-cost round instead. 

Initial cost projections put the price of each LRLAP round at $50,000. The Raytheon Excalibur guided munition, in use by the Army for about 10 years, costs about $68,000. 

Part of the price difference comes from production volume (much higher for the Army's round), part from the nature of the munition itself: LRLAP is essentially a guided missile that is fired from a gun, the Excalibur an artillery round with a guidance system. 

Beyond switching to a different round, other options could include replacing Zumwalt’s guns with high-powered electric railguns – something the Navy has been considering for some time – or removing them and replacing them with missile silos, like a conventional destroyer. Zumwalt has fewer vertical launch cells than her older peers (80, versus 96 on an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer), and removing the large, high-specification guns could allow for fitting more guided missiles. However, a redesign would be an intrusive process for the specialized, complex Zumwalt: even her passageways are designed around supplying the gun system with ammunition.