The stealthy nature of the Zumwalt class, whose design reduces the ship’s radar signature to that of a small fishing boat, lends itself to operating in enemy waters. Coupled with a large magazine of missiles, the Zumwalt class could become the ideal warship for an aggressive antisurface-ship role. Operating as a lone wolf but fully networked into the U.S. Navy’s battle network, a Zumwalt could be sent to hunt down and destroy enemy task forces far and wide.
The conversion would start with deleting the two 155-millimeter Advanced Gun System howitzers on the bow and replacing them with a large field of Mk. 41 vertical launch systems. Each Mk. 41 can hold a single missile, which in this case will be the new Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM). Removing the guns could free up room for up to two hundred Mk. 41s, resulting in more silo-based firepower than even the Ohio-class guided-missile submarines. The combination of a stealthy ship and stealthy antiship missiles guided by artificial intelligence would make a formidable adversary. Alternately, the two hundred or so silos could be filled with Tactical Tomahawk missiles for a land-attack mission.
A ship-killing Zumwalt would by necessity operate alone, as an escort would be easy for enemy sensors to detect. Fortunately, the combination of the ship’s AN/SPY-3 Multi-Function Radar and SM-2 and ESSM missiles makes for a powerful self-defense suite. The Zumwalts’ eighty Mk. 57 silos, already installed onboard the ship, would be reserved for defensive weapons. The eighty silos could provide a layered defense with a combination of medium-range Standard SM-2 air-defense missiles and short-range Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM). If the newer SM-6 surface to air missile fits in the Mk. 57, the secondary antiship role of the SM-6 would give the Zumwalts a backup antiship weapon for use against enemy vessels that don’t rate a LRASM.
The key to the Zumwalt’s success as a hunter-killer would be being properly networked into the rest of the Navy. The ship would receive sighting reports from satellites; MQ-4 Triton high-altitude, long-endurance drones; P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft; carrier-based aircraft; surface ships; submarines; and air, surface and subsurface drones. The Zumwalt could locate and track an enemy task group by proxy, setting up an ambush when conditions are favorable, without even turning on its radar or sending out drones of its own. As a corollary, the network would help keep the Zumwalt alive, allowing it to outmaneuver dangerous threats.