Monday, April 11, 2016

All three Zumwalt class destroyers will be deployed to the Pacific to counter China.

USS Zumwalt undergoing sea trials. US Navy/General Electric/Bath Ironworks. 

All three of the Zumwalt class of destroyers are going to be deployed to the Pacific Ocean.  The 600 ft destroyers are the largest and most expensive destroyers ever built. The lead ship of the class, the Zumwalt, has undergone sea trials in the Atlantic and is expected to have its home port be San Diego. The other two Zumwalt class destroyers, the Lyndon Johnson and the Michael Monsoor have yet to be completed. In addition to the three destroyers, other assets are being deployed in Asia. F-22 and F-35 fighter jets have also been deployed and there is serious talk of deploying the THAAD system of anti-ballistic missile launchers as well. The deployments come on the heels of a "shift" to China, as the country is pressing it's maritime claims in the region. 

My Comment:
I am not surprised at all that these ships are being deployed in the Pacific. Indeed, there is little reason for them to be deployed elsewhere. We do have carrier battle groups in both the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, and they need destroyers to escort them, but we have other ships more suited for that role, like the older Arleigh Burke class, some of which are still being built. And the threat of attack is much lower in those areas then it is in the Pacific. Unless things go completely insane between the US and Russia, there isn't an enemy to fight there. 

The Zumwalt class is a bit of an odd destroyer. It is huge, and if our ship classifications made any sense it would be more properly labeled a cruiser instead of a destroyer. It's a mutli-role ship, and was even designed to replace the venerable old battleships, like the Iowa and Wisconsin. It is also somewhat stealthy which would help it if it was under attack by ships or planes equipped with radar. They also look somewhat strange. If anything they are a throwback to the old iron clad ships of the Civil War. 

I also have to say that America's naval tradition of naming ships after our politicians is pretty dumb. I don't mind the Zumwalt itself because it was named after a Navy admiral, but the Lyndon B. Johnson? You would think that he would rate an aircraft carrier at least... I still say we should go with the British style names, like Invincible and Indefatigable. Something that plays up our strength to our enemies, and not references that will fly right over their heads. 

Anyways, the deployment of these ships to the Pacific fleet is an obvious counter the the military buildup that the Chinese are engaging in. They are spending billions of dollars modernizing their military and they are building up artificial islands near their maritime claims to better defend them. The Zumwalt class of destroyers will join the other military assets that are already in the area as a deterrence factor for China, should they try to push their territorial claims further.

In the end though, right now it is just one ship. The USS Zumwalt is the only ship active while the other two are still being built. And the Zumwalt is a green ship, it has only undergone it's sea trials and it isn't officially active yet. I don't think just one ship is going to help all that much when it comes to deterring China. And if something were to happen today, they would be of little use since none of them are really ready for combat yet. 

It is clear to me that China is still pushing its maritime claims very hard. The fear is that China will eventually go to war to claim the territory around the disputed islands in the South China Sea. Those islands and reefs are home to rich fisheries and the potential for rich oil fields as well. China will need both food and fuel in the next century, so it wouldn't be completely shocking if they were to try something. Should that happen, the three ships of the Zumwalt class will join the fighting. Their role would be limited, but similar to the Arleigh Burke class destroyers, only with presumably more survivability due to their smaller radar profiles. 

But a war with China isn't the only possible role for the Zumwalts. North Korea is always a tinderbox and if war finally comes to the Korean peninsula, the USS Zumwalt and her sister ships will be involved. North Korea doesn't have much of a surface navy but the Zumwalts would be useful in defending the carrier fleets as well as launching attacks on targets on the ground. 

Either way, the Zumwalt class will probably find a lot of work in the Pacific. I hope though that the three ships of the class aren't a total waste of money. The Arleigh Burke class of destroyers are almost as good but they are a lot cheaper then the Zumwalts. That doesn't mean that the Zumwalts will go the way of the Littoral Combat Ships, which are widely considered a joke, it just means that it might be a good thing that we only ordered three of them... Lets hope that the ships prove their worth soon. 

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