Zumwalt Destroyers to Become First US Ships Armed with Hypersonic Weapons

Speaking before the US House of Representatives’ Appropriations Subcommittee, US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday revealed that the Zumwalt Class destroyers are planned to become the first ships to field hypersonic weapons. The admiral said that arming Zumwalts with hypersonic missiles would help turn them into a “strike platform”. 2025 was set as the date by which the project is expected to be ready.

While no reference was made to what specific hypersonic weapon is to be fielded by the Zumwalts, the Common Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) which is jointly developed by the Navy alongside the Army and Air Force is most likely the weapon which should be expected. The admiral went on to highlight that hypersonic capability is currently the foremost research development priority for the US Navy.

“With respect to our research and development budget, hypersonics is our top priority, so we are working closely with the Marine Corps, with the Army, and with the Air Force to reach a capability that we can deliver to the fleet in 2025. […] Our intent is to first put the weapon on those destroyers and then on our Virginia-class Block 5 submarines. Right now, our projection is that capability will be on our submarines by 2028.”

US Army illustration illustrating plans for the C-HGB and ground-based launchers for it (US Army)

The hypersonic weapons are not the only new system which the Zumwalts may expect. The Chief of Naval Operations was also vocal about how he sees the future of laser weapons in the Navy.

“I think directed energy with respect to the future survivability of the fleet is really important. If you think about the fact that a Ford-class carrier generates three times the electrical power of a Nimitz-class, or that we’ve got excess power generation in Zumwalt-class destroyers”

The admiral’s recent statements contradict previous plans which would have seen hypersonic missiles first being fielded by the submarine fleet.