As warfare continues to evolve in the 21st century, the United States Navy has taken measures to ensure its fleet is capable of meeting modern battlefield demands. Long gone are the days of massive battleships and heavy cruisers that would exchange fire over the high seas. The transition today is for a fleet that consists of smaller warships, capable of firing precision-guided missiles and operating in coastal regions supporting ground forces.
Supporting future operations are two new types of small warships (the Zumwalt-class destroyer and the Littoral Combat Ship). The Zumwalt-class was developed under the DD-21 (21st Century Destroyer) program. This class features many capabilities not seen in older classes of Destroyers. One of the first noticeable differences of USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) is its appearance. Some have noted its looks more like a historical ironclad than a modern warship. The design features stealth capabilities, resulting in a radar-cross section that reduces its radar signature down to a small fishing boat. Efforts have also been made to the ships acoustic signature to match those of the Los Angeles-class submarines. Despite the ships increased technology and advanced weapons systems, the high costs of the Zumwalt-class destroyers have resulted in the Navy to reduce the number of ships ordered for its fleet. When originally accepted, the Navy ordered 32 of the Zumwalt-class. That number has been dramatically reduced, with only three being ordered (USS Zumwalt, USS Michael Monsoor, and USS Lyndon B. Johnson).
The other new design for modern warships is the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). There are currently two LCS variants, the Independence-class and the Freedom-class. The Littoral Combat Ships are designed to operate in the littoral zone (waters near the shore). While the Freedom-class has a traditional monohull design, the Independence-class has been designed with a multihull trimaran. Both classes are significantly faster than most warships in the US Navy, with a top speed of over 40 knots. The US Navy has ordered 13 ships from each class, with six active vessels already completed (LCS Independence, LCS Coronado, LCS Jackson, LCS Freedom, LCS Fort Worth, and LCS Milwaukee). In December 2015, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter reduced the overall procurement of the LCS variants down to 40 vessels. By 2019 the Navy will pick which variant of the two classes to continue to build in the future. As the US evolves to meet 21st-century threats, each branch of the military will continue to develop resources to ensure success on the battlefield.
Look for more information regarding the future of the US Navy and its small warships in the upcoming Strategy & Tactics issue #301 article “Navy Small Combatant Roles” and join the conversation on Facebook!