The first of three new destroyers for the U.S. Navy won’t be delivered with full combat capability until the first quarter of next year, another slip in a $23 billion program that’s now running six years late.
The previously undisclosed delay for the first ship, the $7.8 billion USS Zumwalt, was confirmed by Colleen O’Rourke, a Navy spokeswoman, via email. It was supposed to hit the milestone of having full combat capability last month, which already was more than five years later than originally scheduled and 10 years after construction began.
“While combat system testing has made significant progress, Zumwalt continues to work through first-in-class integration and shipboard test challenges,” O’Rourke said in the statement.
The additional delay in final delivery of the destroyer, designated the DDG-1000, may increase doubts the Navy can build, outfit and deliver vessels on time and within cost targets. The service is seeking public and congressional support for plans to reach a 355-ship fleet by 2034, up from 290 today. That’s a 20-year acceleration over last year’s timeline to reach the goal.
The Navy has opted for a phased delivery strategy for the destroyers: initial delivery after completion of the hull and mechanical and engineering installation at General Dynamics Corp.’s Bath Iron Works in Maine and testing on the East Coast, followed by combat system activation in California under the supervision of Raytheon Co. and BAE Systems Plc.
General Dynamics turned over the Zumwalt to the Navy in 2016. Since then, Raytheon and BAE Systems have been completing the vessel’s combat systems and the “total computing system environment” needed to operate the vessel.
Under the contract, final delivery occurs when all systems have been installed, tested and deemed working.
The Navy calls the new destroyer class “the largest and most technologically advanced surface combatant in the world.” The stealthy, multimission Zumwalt started out as a 32-ship program with the primary purpose of providing gun support to troops and Marines ashore, much like battleships during World War II. The Navy assumed it would buy 20,000 “Long-Range Land Attack Projectiles” over the program’s life that were to fire 62 nautical miles from its twin 155mm “Advanced Gun Systems” made by BAE Systems.
The program was reduced to just three vessels, with the Navy planning to buy 2,400 projectiles — raising the estimated cost for each munition to as much as $566,000, according to the Naval Sea Systems Command.
The price tag contributed to the Navy’s decision in December 2017 to change the destroyer’s mission from shore bombardment to surface warfare against other vessels, armed with longer-range missiles.
So the DDG-1000 will now be delivered with its two Advanced Guns Systems in what the Navy calls “an inactive state.” The Navy spent $505 million on the weapons.
“From what we understand, these latest delays continue to stem from the same, numerous difficult issues the Navy has faced on DDG-1000 for some time that are a result of concurrently attempting to prove out and build a very complex ship,” said Shelby Oakley, an acquisition director with the Government Accountability Office who follows shipbuilding.
The office’s annual weapons report, issued in April, said the service is “still working to correct” 320 “serious deficiencies” that its inspectors identified when it first accepted the ship in May 2016.
The destroyer is currently in combat testing before final delivery. It has completed a series of at-sea trials that included evaluating how well the ship handles at sea, refueling while underway, calm-weather maneuverability trials, navigation certifications and acoustic tests, according to Navy documents.
Even with the latest delay, the Navy continues to project that the destroyer will have an “initial operating capability” in September 2021, O’Rourke said. That’s three years later than planned.
The program’s procurement cost keeps increasing — by $160 million in fiscal 2020, the 11th straight year of increases that cumulatively total more than $4 billion since 2010. The basic cost for procuring the three ships now planned has risen to just over $13.2 billion, according to budget documents and the Congressional Research Service. The $23 billion program also includes about $10 billion in research and development.