01/13/2017 / By JD Heyes
The U.S. military is without question the best in the world and certainly the most innovative and lethal. But to be honest, it is also the world’s most expensive force, and part of that comes from the manner in which weapons are bid and procured.
There are many palms to grease down the line, from lobbyists to contractors to defense companies—and each time someone takes a piece of the pie, the weapon system they are hawking gets more expensive for the taxpayer.
One of the newest systems recently fielded is the USS Zumwalt, the Navy’s first stealth warship. The Zumwalt Class, however, is turning out to be the most expensive guided missile destroyer the U.S. has ever built. And it has suffered a number of breakdowns during sea trials, needing to be towed back to port.
That said, there are, at least, some thinking people working on a bypass. Officials who spoke to USNI News say the Navy is now considering Raytheon’s Excalibur, which is a GPS-guided artillery round to use as a substitute for the LRLAP (Long Range Land Attack Projectile) shells that the ship’s main guns were designed to handle.
While Excalibur has about half the range of the LRLAP—about 30 miles—it also costs about one-quarter of what the longer range ammunition costs. Also, Excalibur can hit moving targets; the $800k LRLAP apparently could not.
But whether or not the Navy will decide on the Excalibur will depend largely on what it will cost to modify the Zumwalt Class guns to fire the cheaper shells. The ammunition-loading system and the gun’s barrels were designed to fire the LRLAP, and the Excalibur is not exactly plug-and-play technology. Retrofits are expected to cost in the neighborhood of $250 million, but that is believed to be far less than what it will cost to outfit the three Zumwalt-Class ships with a full complement of LRLAP’s (and spares).
One problem is that the Navy’s needs for the Zumwalt Class warships has greatly diminished. When they were being designed in the 1990s, military planners envisioned a much bigger fleet of them—32 warships in all. But since then, the number has fallen to just three, and even those were riddled with cost overruns. USNI News reported that, in the past five years alone, cost overruns for the ships have totaled more than $5 billion.
Hopefully, this will change under a Trump administration. After the president-elect complained publicly about the cost of a new Air Force One Boeing 747, the company ‘decided’ it could actually build two new planes for the original price of one.