The US Navy’s most aspirational project to date, the Zumwalt-class Stealth Missile Destroyer, is deployed at China’s doorstep in a move that could raise the stakes in the highly contested Indo-Pacific region.
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The most modern surface warship in the US Navy, the Zumwalt-class Destroyer, is conducting a mission in the western Pacific that could pave the way for the future deployment of US hypersonic missiles in the region, CNN reported.
The West of the Pacific has lately become more vied with Chinese overreaches in the region. In May this year, a PLA Carrier battle group led by Liaoning transited the Miyako Strait near Japan to conduct military drills in the western Pacific. In 2021, Chinese and Russian warships conducted their first-ever regional joint patrol.
The USS Zumwalt is the first of three multi-mission guided missile destroyers that the Navy claims will add a new layer of complexity to the battle space for prospective adversaries.
“The presence of a stealth warship will draw a great deal of (Chinese) interest,” especially if the Zumwalt is outfitted with hypersonic weapons, analyst Carl Schuster, a former US Navy captain, told CNN.
EurAsian Times had reported in August this year that three destroyers of the Zumwalt-class were set to be the first to be armed with Long-range hypersonic weapons, which will soon be mounted on the warships by the Mississippi-based shipyard Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII).
Dates for availability were not specified in the statement, but Capt. Matthew Schroeder, program manager for the DDG-1000 at the Program Executive Office, Ships, announced in March that the upgrade phase to outfit Zumwalt with hypersonic missiles will start in October 2023.
This could mean that deploying this cutting-edge warship at China’s doorstep would not only help create deterrence in the region but eventually lead to hypersonic missiles stationed close to Beijing, putting it in the line of fire.
The US’s long-range hypersonic weapons are a direct response to rival countries’ hypersonic missiles, some of which are mounted on land-based wheeled transporter erector launchers (TELs), inside VLS tubes on warships, or carried beneath bombers.
USS #ZUMWALT DDG1000 arrived at Yokosuka, Japan 26 Sept, the first time a Zumwalt-class #destroyer has cruised to the western Pacific. The Z-boat apparently deployed from San Diego in early August. She still sports the distinctive Z on her transom – a feature that dates from 2019 pic.twitter.com/bqz8y8twDl
— Chris Cavas (@CavasShips) September 27, 2022
By 2028, US Navy says it must possess an air-launched, air-breathing hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile. According to the military, this weapon will be crucial in fending off escalating threats from adversaries like China and Russia.
In the previously released documents associated with the Navy’s budget proposal for the fiscal year 2023, the Hypersonic Air-Launched Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare Missile, or HALO, is also extensively discussed.
China In The Firing Line?
The Zumwalt arrived in Japan on September 26, according to Lt. Mark Langford, a spokesperson for the US Navy’s 7th fleet, after making a port stop in Guam the previous week. This is reportedly the farthest that the vessel has sailed from home.
The warship has been assigned to Destroyer Squadron 15, the largest US Navy destroyer squadron based outside of the US at Yokosuka Naval Base close to Tokyo. Zumwalt “plays an integral role in maintaining our competitive edge and assuring our allies and partners in the region,” said Lt. Katherine Serrano, a spokesperson for Destroyer Squadron 15.
The US Navy intends to use hypersonic weapons on destroyers by 2025 and nuclear-powered attack submarines of the Virginia class by 2028. Adm. Mike Gilday stated last year that the Zumwalts would be the first platform to field hypersonic missiles.
A US Navy fact sheet describes the Zumwalt as the largest and most technologically advanced surface combatant in the world. It is 610 feet (185 meters) long and weighs about 16,000 metric tons. The USS Zumwalt is outfitted with 80 vertical launch cells for both anti-submarine and land-attacking missiles.
The Navy would swap out the two 155mmon Advanced Gun System mounts on each ship for tubes that would accommodate the Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) Vertical Launch System created for the Army, Air Force, and Navy, it was revealed earlier this year.
The two tubes for the Common-Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) were initially supposed to be mounted on the port and starboard sides of the ship without removing the two 155-mm AGS gun mounts, according to a plan provided by Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Mike Gilday.
However, the entire section of five platforms—two gun chambers, the loading mechanism, transfer carts, and ammo—will need to be dismantled by October 2023 to create room for the C-HGB, which is far larger than any missile in the US Navy’s stockpile.
“Zumwalt gave us an opportunity to get [hypersonics] out faster, and to be honest with you, I need a solid mission for Zumwalt,” Gilday told USNI News during an interview earlier this year. This development is significant as the United States has trailed behind China in developing and fielding hypersonic weapons.
Further, the deployment of Zumwalt in the region would mean that it would be stationed close to the Type 055 Destroyer of the PLA Navy, the biggest vessel in China’s fleet.