“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.