U.S. Navy Can’t Afford Ammo for Advanced Gun System. Or Can It?


“The Long Range Land-Attack Projectile (LRLAP) is a guided precision munition that is key to the DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class’s mission as a land-attack destroyer,” defensenews.com reports, “able to hit targets with such accuracy that, in the words of manufacturer Lockheed Martin, can ‘defeat targets in the urban canyons of coastal cities with minimal collateral damage.'” We’re talking about . . .

the only munition designed to be fired from the DDG 1000’s Advanced Gun System (AGS), a 155mm/62-caliber gun with an automated magazine and handling system. Each of the three Zumwalts will carry two of the guns – the largest weapons to be designed for and fitted on a warship since World War II.

Yay big guns! Yay minimizing collateral damage! Problem: all that accuracy comes at a high price. I know what you’re thinking: all our military equipment costs a bomb. (Anyone remember the B1 bombers’ $7,600 coffee maker?) Yeah, but this ammo costs a metaphorical nuclear bomb: $800,000 per round. Or more.

The LRLAP’s unit price has jumped steadily as the numbers of Zumwalt-class destroyers were cut. From a total of 28 ships, to seven, and finally to three, the class shrank and costs did not.

“We were going to buy thousands of these rounds,” said a Navy official familiar with the program. “But quantities of ships killed the affordable round.” . . .

Even at $800,000 a copy, the LRLAP’s price could go higher. “That’s probably low,” the Navy official said. “That’s what the acquisition community wanted to get it down to.” The official added that there was no sense the contractor was “overcharging or anything.”

Who knew that the Navy decided whether or not a contractor is “overcharging or anything” by getting a “sense” of it. I wonder how much they pay for a Ouija board. Anyway, according to defensenews.com, “the service is moving to cancel the projectiles for the guns.” Or is it?

The decision to accept the LRLAP cancellation is part of the Program Objective Memorandum 2018 (POM18) effort, the Pentagon’s annual budget process. Although the Navy made a presentation to the Office of the Secretary of Defense on Nov. 2, the decision has yet to be signed off on.

For the record, the Navy would not comment directly on the effort to kill LRLAP.

Here’s a clue that the reports of the round’s death may be premature.

Current plans call for the guns to be fired during [Combat Systems Ship Qualifications Trials] and, the Navy official said, “the intention is to shoot the guns.” The 2015 budget provided $113 million to buy 150 LRLAP rounds and associated items, and those rounds will be used for the tests.

So Uncle Sam will test fire the LRLAP rounds — at a limited-time-only special introductory price of $753k per round — and then . . . what? Use another round, of course! Not so easy, Mr. Bond.

While software changes will certainly be needed to incorporate other munitions into the AGS, adapting the handling system for a different round could be complex. The automated magazines, designed to hold 300 LRLAPs, are sized for that particular weapon and it’s unlikely another munition would have exactly the same dimensions.

Other rounds under development for the 127mm guns arming all other US destroyers and cruisers could be adapted to the AGS, but would likely need a sabot arrangement to adapt the smaller shell to the 155mm weapon.

What’s the bet it would cost more to adapt the AGS than pony up for the LRLAP rounds? Either way, I’m sure whichever candidate assumes the presidency tomorrow, he/she will address the waste, inefficiency and profiteering that characterizes our military procurement system in general, and the AGS in particular. Or not.


  1. avatar Binder says:

    This is why US goverment should have two contracts with a weapons developer. The Government should pay for development costs directly and get the patents and manufacturing licenses from the developer. They the have a second contract for production. If the weapons manufacture wants to sell to another goverment, then US goverment should charge for licencing.

    1. avatar John B says:

      I work for a defense contractor and can tell you that the Govt already gets the Technical Data Package since they do pay for development. They also compete technologies against competing contractors from inception until the down select. The majority of costs the arise, even in legacy programs, is due to government requirements. There are countless times that we have tried to lower the costs associated with building something as simple as a truck, but the Govt insists that we add this requirement or that requirement (excessive QA to excessive oversight). Before you go blaming the contractor like the media wants, realize that the govt is paying exactly what it asked for. Hell, 8% profit is good in our industry, whereas MOST industries would balk at that.

      1. avatar Kroglikepie says:

        ^ +1 Trillion. I have to explain this ALL THE TIME to people outside my field about why this stuff becomes so damn expensive. It isn’t the gizmo, it’s the government. It certainly doesn’t help that the Pentagon’s acquisition staff was gutted during the Clinton cash-in on the ‘Peace Dividend’ and has never really recovered. You can’t wipe away decades of knowledge and skill (cumulative centuries, really), and somehow expect to snap your fingers and have it back on demand.

  2. avatar RandallOfLegend says:

    You have to remember… This is a precision GUIDED artillery shell. It has GPS and Inertial Guidance Systems in each round. It’s not a hunk of lead and steel. Each round weighs up to 225 pounds. I would guess the current cost is driven by a slow/difficult to scale manufacturing process at BAE.

    1. avatar pwrserge says:

      Or possibly by the fact that the quantities required are far below what would make scaling the production economical. To give you an idea, let’s take a common rifle round as an example. The 300 AAC costs almost twice as much per round as the near identical 5.56×45. The reason for this is that while component costs are a wash, the startup costs for the required equipment is only economical when the round is made on the same scale as the 5.56×45. It’s the same reason why .380 will always be more expensive than 9mm.

    2. avatar Alex says:

      Raytheon has had excalibur 155s available for some time at less than 100k.

      1. avatar pwrserge says:

        A weapon with less than 1/4 the effective range and a much smaller warhead. It’s like comparing costs for 5.56×45 and .50BMG.

        1. avatar Alex says:

          I didn’t realize the LRLAP had a 60 mile range. That is pretty damn far.

        2. avatar pwrserge says:

          Closer to 100 according to some reports.

      2. avatar neiowa says:

        BOTH are puny ass 155s. There is no substitute for caliber in packing in HE.

        In the Army we’ve been hauling around 155s for more than a century. Starting with horses.

  3. avatar Joe R. says:

    “(Anyone remember the B1 bombers’ $7,600 coffee maker?)” Anyone remember the Fing governmental contract that wouldn’t fit in a 30′ roll-off cart? Or the bs requirements for the manufacturer to weigh it’s paper trash, or provide overly prying information about it’s contract employees so they could boast about demographics? Suck up to the EPA, quasi-compensate for the sh_t-ton of US.gov graft?

    The $7,600 was what it cost the manufacturer to break-even on the contracted part, not including the cost of the 976,000 change-orders and requested delays.

    But give the NAVY the ammo now, the whiney-cun7’s in the Proletariat and the public will never shut up if the NAVY is later caught without enough [i.ei., why don’t we have enough up-armored HMMV’s in country??? WHY? BECAUSE YOU PREVIOUSLY SAID THEY WEREN’T WORTH THE $$$].

  4. avatar Chris says:

    Why even bother with guided rounds at that price point…just lob tomahawks for that cost! The whole point of a long range shell was that it was cheap! Time to revert that dinky 5″ back to being a dinky 5″

    1. avatar Joe R. says:

      Tomahawks can [almost] be used by anyone, if a kinetic or guided-kinetic projectile fell into enemy hands, they would nearly have to build a Zumwalt vessel to support what the built to fire it.

      It’s kind of like the argument for giving $$$ to NASA just so the Chinese aren’t the only one’s who can drop a rock on your head (space, even near-space, is full of ’em). WHEN YOU OWN SPACE, YOU OWN EVERYTHING UNDERNEATH IT.

      1. avatar pwrserge says:

        Well, except for the absurd difference in effective range. The LRLAP can hit targets up to 180km away, the Excalibur can barely manage 40km. It’s actually a very effective solution for long range precision naval artillery support that does not require blowing up a $2000 hut with a $1,600,000 Tomahawk missile. Sure, $800,000 is not cheap, but for practical applications, it’s about half the cost. The problem is that a destroyer can carry 300 of the suckers which gives you a cost of $240,000,000 for the ammo of a single ship. (~10% of the hull cost.) The sad part is that the system will be largely obsolete once the Navy gets their railgun program online.

        1. avatar Binder says:

          Rail gun is line of sight. Velocity is too high for high ballistic trajectories.

        2. avatar pwrserge says:

          It doesn’t have to be “high” the extra velocity will get you all the effective over the horizon range you need. (Everything that goes up must come down.) You can even get plunging fire with simply absurd apex altitudes. The same terminal guidance technology that works on the LRLAP can be used to guide your railgun projectile in to your target. The benefit is that you can use a much cheaper “dumb” projectile for the same things you would normally do with direct fire from a 5″ gun.

        3. avatar Joe R. says:

          Now you’re talkin’!!! Well, at least FOX News will have their shock and awe videos.

          As an aside. . . the U.S. NAVY’s fight song is the only U.S. Military Branch song to sing about killing.

          HOOOYAH, HOOORAH, AND [YUTT] !!!

    2. avatar pwrserge says:

      Because this is much more precise than a Tomahawk and a destroyer can carry a shit ton more of them. It’s a very practical system and is still MUCH less expensive than a missile delivery system. (Tomahawks come in at ~$1.6 million each.) The practical solution would be to re-gun existing ships to use the same system and simultaneously increase their firepower while reducing unit cost through economy of scale.

      A 5″ gun is more or less useless in modern naval warfare. Any ship big enough to warrant shooting with one is going to be well out of range of the gun for most combat scenarios. Similarly, your maximum effective range makes using said gun as artillery support rather difficult. (Your shells just can’t reach that far.)

      1. avatar Chris says:

        I understand the counterargument but at the same time there are reasons why 99% of tanks don’t carry a 20mm in addition to the big gun. It’s either worth spending the ordnance on a certain target or it’s not. If you had to shoot twice or more to kill a mud hut you might as well have clusterbombed it with a Tomahawk for the money.

        Still, I understand a 5″ gun with guided shell capability and a single-use tomahawk have different capabilities. But by the time you’ve put wings and electronics and a rocket on a 5″ shell how much power do you even have left in it? And for .8m no less?

        1. avatar Pwrserge says:

          Quite a bit, actually. The electronics and fins don’t appreciably reduce the payload. One of the reasons these things are so blasted expensive.

      2. avatar JT says:

        In this day and age, guns on naval ships are for defensive use or fire support against land targets. Any combat between ships that are frigate size are larger is going to be with guided missiles.

        1. avatar pwrserge says:

          That’s one of the things a gun like this could change. It’s much harder to intercept a ballistic projectile than it is to stop a surface skimming missile. If you add terminal guidance to a rock, a rock can be a very effective weapon if you throw it fast enough.

        2. avatar neiowa says:

          In the 50 you’re the guy that would have been singing the “don’t need no stinkin guns on our nifty new jet fighters”.

          That the squids don’t bother buying arty doesn’t mean they (or the jarheads) don’t need them. See also the AirFarce distain of the A10/AC130/anything useful.

        3. avatar Geoff PR says:

          “If you add terminal guidance to a rock, a rock can be a very effective weapon if you throw it fast enough.”

          That’s pretty much the concept of ‘Brilliant Pebbles’ from 30 years back…

    3. avatar Tim says:

      While I appreciate the sentiment, Tomahawks can be shot down rather easily these days. Optimally, long range artillery can ‘shower’ targets with independent, warheads on ballistic trajectories, which are far more difficult to intercept.

    4. avatar Jim Macklin says:

      155 mm is about 6 inches but the size of the shell casing may be very different from an Army 155 mm gun or howitzer.

      After the Navy does the sea trials and fires the initial ammo during tests, will there be enough ammo for even one ship to defend itself?

      It seems the obama administration is all about cutting the defense budget, I guess that actually defending the country gets in the way of being “friendly” to terrorists.

  5. avatar Soylent Green says:

    So is this like the 155mm Excaliber round as fired by the Paladin howitzer, but longer?

    1. avatar JT says:

      Sort of. The range on this is more than 4x that of the Excalibur.

  6. avatar Clark Adams says:

    I do testing of new systems for a living (as a Soldier) and warn against throwing around accusations of “profiteering”. Defense contractors spend, literally, tens of millions of dollars on internal R&D to develop winning systems for these big contracts. It makes sense when the sale is for lots of systems as the development costs are split across thousands of systems sold. When we (the DoD) change big buys to small ones, those costs still need to be recouped. If you want to throw stones, I recommend starting with Congress, who is responsible for the unstable and unpredictable budgets which force Program Managers to make these types of choices.

    1. avatar Anner says:

      Thank you, a bit of clarity and knowledge to drown out the “bring back 5 inch guns” (that are completely irrelevant outside of picking off Somali pirate go-fasts) comments.

      TTAG is inundated with “we used this in WWII-Korea-Vietnam and it worked then, why can’t it work now?” experts. Reference previous pro-B-52-overhaul comments. If you want the latest gear to tackle a formidable opponent, or at least posture for such in order to facilitate free trade among the open seas, be ready to pay for it. Then take a few moments to research the incredible technology driving the future fight to appreciate that today’s force will get smoked bad in just a few years.

      1. avatar Avid Reader says:

        I agree with what you say.

        However, for sheer awesomeness it’s hard to beat firing a 16″ naval rifle. Or several of them at once.

        1. avatar pwrserge says:

          You can get the same “awesomeness” by setting off a small boat full of C4 a few hundred yards from your ship. The sad part, is that in modern naval warfare, it will have about the same effect. It’s almost impossible to hit a modern maneuvering warship with ballistic naval guns. A modern destroyer can come to a full stop within the length of the ship. That means that by the time your shell gets there, it will be hitting water rather than ship.

  7. avatar Maxi says:

    Why again are they using a rocket-like shell with gps guidance and everything if it does exactly what a real rocket could do – at the same price? I mean seriously, wasn’t the one and only last purpose of a big gun/ canon to sling some relatively cheap lead and copper downrange so that you don’t have to waste one of your horrendously expensive rockets? I mean rockets are basically suicide drones, that is what makes them so expensive and usefull. And now we produce exactly that but leave away the rocket part that would give us more versatility, range and power for the same price?

    1. avatar pwrserge says:

      Actually, the cost is still far lower than most missiles. The big advantages are in magazine capacity and rate of fire. For the desired method of use, it’s a rather effective weapon. Just not when you have it mounted on only three ships and have to eat the development costs in a much smaller number of production units. If this was the standard gun of all Navy surface combat units, the per-unit cost would be far lower.

      1. avatar Jim Macklin says:

        Years ago when the Air Force was buying the C5A the original design requirements kept going up, longer ranger meant bigger fuel tanks and more weight. More weight required bigger engines which needed more fuel. More fuel meant… and around and around it went.
        The payload also went up, more engine development, stronger wings, weight increased, and cost went up.
        The Initial purchase price went up because of inflation and delays which meant more time for inflation.
        So Congress cut the order from 150 planes [as I recall] to 100 airplanes so the unit cost went up 100%. Finally they only built about 85 airplanes as I recall and of course, the unit cost for designing and building the production line was now amortized on half the airplane order.
        Government, since the 1974 Budget Reform Act has only had a few places where they can cut the budget… DEfense and NASA are about the only things that are not “Entitlements” so the budget is out of control.

  8. avatar Jomo says:

    None of this is true. AGS is a perfectly normal 155mm. I worked on this program. The gun will fire any standard 155mm ammo. Some dipshit in the press probably heard something negative about LRLAP and extrapolated to the whole weapon. The standard ammo doesn’t have the range of LRLAP but will put steel on target just fine.

  9. avatar Gman says:

    Economy of scale has always been the Bain of military contracting. When compared to civilian marketing and sales, military sales are very low numbers volumetrically. As a defense contractor, we deal with this issue all the time. I was designing a new handheld test box to replace the existing 43 pound box for carrier flight deck use. With only 12 carriers and a total build quantity of about 20, most manufacturers of the receiver chips I needed had no desire to even talk with us. Finally Motorola sampled us a box of 100 for R&D. I still have 75 of them in my desk.

  10. avatar Ralph says:

    “I wonder how much they pay for a Ouija board.”

    I’ll sell them mine for only $753 thousand.

  11. avatar Jomo says:

    Man, someday it would be fun to write a column about the way military procurement REALLY works. You guys are always talking about how the press lies and makes up stuff about gun owners l, it then you turn around and hang on their every word when they talk about the military/defense. As someone on the inside, it’a sometimes funny and often alarming how little people really know vs. how much they think they know.

    1. avatar Kroglikepie says:

      A column? Hell, a book for all the bs from each program sounds more apt… My favorite by far and above is the F35 and/or F22…

    2. avatar Roymond says:

      Heck, just read some good military science fiction, such as Weber’s Safehold series, and you’ll know that the procurement process is a lot more complex than the press ever manages to convey!

  12. avatar Aaron M. Walker says:

    Yes, I believe the Boston, Massachusetts city police department was requesting a few of these bad boys for urban pacification for the mean streets of Boston !!!

  13. avatar I1ULUZ says:

    Most federal contracts are in the public domain. http://www.defense.gov/News/Contracts

    Just a guess, but betting the range has more to do with staying outside of the surface to surface missile batteries on the shore and still supporting the Grunts hitting the beach. Sure once the barrel is moved from it’s enclosure the ship’s RCS has a dramatic increase.

    Nobody ever said war is a cheap hobby.

  14. avatar Chris Mallory says:

    How about we take the $4 billion a year we are sending as welfare to Tel Aviv and use it to buy the rounds we need. Even better keep that money for our military and bring all our troops back to the Western Hemisphere and use them solely to guard our borders! WIN WIN!

    1. avatar tiger says:

      How about we loose the shells, Over priced ship, troops and give folks in Flint water they can drink?

      1. avatar Scoutino says:

        What’s wrong with the folks in Flint buying their own drinking water?

  15. avatar formerwaterwalker says:

    Aw c’mon…the gubmint has plenty of paper to print more worthless Obamabucks. Bombs for piece. “Quantitative easing” don’t cha know…sorry but not being able to afford $800000 smart missiles is nonsense.

  16. avatar kevin says:

    I thought artillery was pretty accurate and cheap, and smart bombs/cruise missiles were really accurate and expensive. Shows what I know.

    1. avatar pwrserge says:

      This lives in the area between them. Longer range and better precision than conventional naval gunfire while lower cost than guided bombs or cruise missiles.

  17. avatar Ralph says:

    “You don’t actually think they spend $20,000 on a hammer, $30,000 on a toilet seat, do you?”

    1. avatar jwm says:

      “I HAVE got to get me one of these!”

    2. avatar Roymond says:


      Actually, given that the Pentagon doesn’t get audited, I suspect that there’s more than enough black and double-black spending buried in there to buy a dozen shiploads each of the rounds.

  18. avatar tiger says:

    Meanwhile…. The Army has a stockpile of 15,00 16″ shells for Battleships they need to dispose of. So we have shells too pricey to shoot. And a mountain shells with nothing to shoot them from. Perfect. http://www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/a23202/do-you-know-what-to-do-with-15000-battleship-shells/

  19. avatar jwm says:

    Probably be just as cheap to build a dozen brand new Baltimore class cruisers for use as monitors.

  20. avatar samuraichatter says:

    There is a part of me that seriously hopes the DoD has upped its game and is giving out misinformation here. One could hope right? Yeah its the DoD I know. I always get abit squeamish when (supposedly) experimental/secret weapons are openly discussed. Yeah yeah I know the information is not that hard to come by through other channels but intel 101 says that data collecting is like a mosaic and that relatively common info when culled together can be much more useful.

  21. avatar derfel cadarn says:

    This may sound rude and callous, but winning wars is all about collateral damage, always has been, always will be.

  22. avatar Jim Macklin says:


    These picture may be all the USA has to shoot at the enemy.

    GPS guides to the general area of the enemy, then no doubt onboard sensors such as radar, laser and photographic TV will detect the actual target, disregard decoys and select the most vulnerable part of the target, such as engine rooms or ammunition magazines or the command bridge.

  23. avatar ozzallos says:

    Defense costs heavily revolve around mass production. The more you produce, the more economical it is to produce them over time. In this case, they continue to cut production runs until you are essentially asking a company to produce a one-off design with tooling that will never be used for anything else. This is the same problem that plagues the F-22 and F-35 in terms of cost over-runs. When you tell a company you’re going to produce 30 ships and suddenly change your mind and only make 2, it’s going to impact the bottom line. And special ammunition that only two ships in the fleet can use?

    You might as well be burning stacks of cash with this purchase mentality.

    1. avatar Roymond says:

      The only sensible reason to build just a few ships with advanced capabilities is as a technology demonstration, to show the foe just how far ahead you are. But a technology demonstration only makes sense if you have established the capacity to make more of the item pretty much on demand, because otherwise it’s just giving the enemy a hint of directions to research in.

      So this is a fail on multiple counts. Either field the technology at a substantial level of effectiveness, or don’t let the enemy know you can do it!

  24. avatar John Scior says:

    it seems the technology is working, perhaps if land services such as marines or army made similiar ags for land then there would be reason to mass produce projectiles and get costs down.

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