WASHINGTON — It may be time to consign the $800,000-per-shell cost of the new destroyer USS Zumwalt's long-range ammunition to that dubious list of Pentagon-procured $640 toilet seats, $37 screws and $436 hammers.
The Navy has reportedly balked at the price and isn’t planning to buy more. Navy spokeswoman Capt. Thurraya S. Kent, without addressing the price issue, would say only that “to address evolving threats and mission requirements, the Navy is evaluating industry projectile solutions (including conventional and hypervelocity projectiles) that can also meet the DDG 1000 deployment schedule and could potentially be used as an alternative to LRLAP.”
DDG 1000 is the Navy designation of the Zumwalt. LRLAP refers to the Long Range Land-Attack Projectile.
In a follow-up email, Kent clarified that she had not said the Navy has abandoned the LRLAP.
Defense News, quoting an unnamed Navy official, broke the story that the long-range shells for the newest U.S. Navy destroyer, named after Vietnam-era Chief of Naval Operations Elmo R. Zumwalt, are too expensive at $800,000 each, and no more will be purchased.
That makes the stealthy ship, still more than a year from deployment as a weapons system, unable to do some of its primary missions: softening up beachheads for Marine landings and taking out inland terror-training camps.
Records show the Navy budgeted for 150 of the 7-feet-long, 225-pound shells for $476,946 each in 2015. The price rose as the number of Zumwalt-class destroyers the Navy plans to build fell from 32 to three. The first, the USS Zumwalt, was commissioned in Baltimore last month and is currently en route to its San Diego home port.
Dan Grazier, the Jack Shanahan Fellow at the Project on Government Oversight, the nonprofit watchdog group that discovered the toilet seat and hammer costs in the 1980s, said he was skeptical that a Navy that routinely shoots million-dollar Tomahawk cruise missiles was deterred by the cost.
The former Marine captain, who trained making amphibious landings aided by artillery, said the Navy wants to use the advanced electro-magnetic pulse-powered rail guns on the new class of destroyers.
“I don’t think the Navy’s really interested in a gun cotton-powered weapon anymore,” he said. “That’s so 20th century.”
Lockheed Martin, the projectile manufacturer, released a statement addressing the Zumwalt ammunition situation: "As the DDG 1000's mission continues to evolve, and taking into consideration funding profiles available to support the weaponization of the ship in light of the severe reduction in the planned production quantities, the U.S. Navy decided to evaluate alternate solutions to LRLAP. Lockheed Martin is working aggressively to provide the Navy with options in relation to the DDG-1000's long-range land attack mission."
The 610-foot Zumwalt was designed to lie off the coast and lob the shells with GPS precision at targets as much as 80 miles away at up to 10 per minute.
Because of its angular design features, the ship’s radar signature makes it look to adversaries like a small fishing boat.