The three warships have cost well over $7 billion each, and having suffered from poorly functioning weapons, stalling engines and an underperformance in their stealth capabilities among other shortcomings. They have almost entirely failed to fulfil the originally intended role of multipurpose destroyer warships, while the scale of cost overruns alone brings the viability of the program into question even if the destroyers were able to function as intended. To salvage some use out of the costly ships, the U.S. Navy has considered either conversion into dedicated ship hunters, sacrificing complex anti aircraft and anti submarine capabilities for a specialised long range anti ship role, or nuclear strike platforms.
While the prevalence of nuclear weapon deployments onboard U.S. Navy surface vessels has notably declined since the end of the Cold War, in part to reduce the high costs of maintaining such platforms, the reemergence of near peer adversaries is set to precipitate the reemergence of nuclear armed warships. The U.S. Strategic Command is currently actively considering the deployment of low yield nuclear weapons aboard its Zumwalt Class warships – according to the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, General John Hyten.
As per the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the Trump administration has sought to expand the role of the low yield nuclear weapons, those with tactical rather than strategic uses, in the military. At a keynote address in Washington, D.C. on February 16 General Hyten noted: “It’s important to know that the NPR, when it talks about the Sea Launched Cruise Missile, does not say ‘Submarine-Launched Cruise Missile.’” The Navy is thus set to receive both a sea launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and a new sea launched cruise missile (SLCM) carrying tactical nuclear warheads, both of which are to be deployed from surface vessels such as destroyers. Repurposed Zumwalt Class warships could well prove ideal for deploying such weapons.