I sometimes wonder if the world is going a bit mad. Take, for example, the case of icebreakers with cruise missiles and destroyers with guns but no ammunition.
Despite the increased strategic importance of Arctic, the US has only one heavy icebreaker in service and it appears to be held together by baling wire and the skill of its engineering personnel. The crew of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star recently completed a mission to cut a resupply channel through 15 miles of Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea despite suffering a turbine failure and flooding due to a major shaft seal leak. The crew were able to make repairs sufficient to complete the mission. The good news is that the Coast Guard is building a new heavy icebreaker which, if all goes well, will be launched in 2023.
What is weird about the new icebreaker, however, is that the Coast Guard is making provisions to allow the icebreaker to be outfitted with cruise missiles. That’s right, cruise missiles. Not for breaking ice, but presumably to allow the icebreaker to freelance as a warship, if necessary. I would think that breaking ice would be enough. The ship is called an icebreaker after all. Breaking ice is a big job all by itself.
If the ship was called a destroyer, on the other hand, one might expect it to be capable of destroying things. Turns out that the US Navy’s latest and greatest new destroyers each have two big guns but no shells.
The US now has two of the most expensive and most advanced destroyers ever built — USS Zumwalt and USS Michael Monsoor. The third ship of the class, USS Lyndon B. Johnson is expected to be commissioned in 2019. The destroyers, costing $4 billion each, have two primary guns, 155 mm Advanced Gun System howitzers. The guns were designed to fire Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP), a GPS guided round with a range of 60 nautical miles. The problem is that the LRLAPs, which were originally estimated to cost around $50,000 each, now cost $800,000 per round. The Navy decided that the LRLAPs are just too expensive, but so far has failed to find a suitable replacement.
It had been generally assumed that the destroyers would have high-tech rail-guns installed, but the rail-guns are not ready for prime-time, so at least for the foreseeable future, the destroyers have guns but no ammunitions. The destroyers will not be able to destroy too much.
The new destroyers are not entirely toothless. They do carry cruise missiles. I wonder how they would work as icebreakers.