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Navy’s Zumalt destroyers to join drone ships in new experimental squadron

May 23 (UPI) — The U.S. Navy has created a new experimental squadron that will eventually include the three Zumwalt class destroyers and unmanned surface vehicles.

Vice Adm. Richard Brown, commander of Naval Surface Forces and Naval Surface Force Pacific, announced the formation of Surface Development Squadron One, or SURFDEVRON ONE, at a ceremony Wednesday in San Diego.

The squadron will integrate the drone vessels and support fleet experimentation to accelerate delivery of new warfighting concepts and capabilities to the fleet, according to the Navy.

The primary functions will support new and emerging surface warfighting capabilities; develop material and technical solutions to tactical challenges; and coordinate training, material, logistics, personnel and facilities requirements for unmanned surface systems.

“By standing up a command dedicated to developing warfighting capabilities and experimentation, we will ensure the U.S. Surface Navy remains the premiere Surface Navy in the world,” Brown said.

Only the USS Zumwalt, which formally was designated as Zumalt Squadron One, initially will reside in the squadron with two Sea Hunter unmanned surface vessels next year. The USS Michael Monsoor was commissioned earlier this year and needs combat system activation. The Lyndon B. Johnson is being built at General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Maine.

The first Sea Hunter is in operation and a second Sea Hunter platform will join the squadron when construction is completed around the end of fiscal 2020, the Navy said.

In fiscal year 2024, the SURFDEVRON will be fully ready to tackle its mission of integrating unmanned surface vessels, according to the Navy.

“Without getting into classified discussions, I think that we can do a pretty good job imagining how unmanned could support the Zumwalt-class destroyer in its strike mission,” Brown told USNI and other reporters before the standup ceremony. “So I think that there’s a natural marriage between the Zumwalt-class destroyer and the capabilities that we think unmanned is going to bring to the fleet.”

The first four littoral combat ships, which had been designated as test assets rather than deployable ships under the current LCS squadron construct, would be moved into SURFDEVRON by 2024.

“We believe that’s the natural progression of the four LCS test ships, transfer from LCSRON over to the SURFDEVRON. And then all that experimentation exists under one commander, and we’re able to just deliver anything that we experiment with or develop for LCS, we do that with SURFDEVRON and then just deliver it over to the LCSRON,” Brown told reporters.

The Zumwalt class will be focused on surface strike. The advanced gun systems, which take up most of the front third of the destroyers, are no longer considered practical and are described as a “white elephant,” according to The Drive.

“It is such a unique and capable class of ship. We want to be able to quickly experiment with it,” Brown said. “So the Zumwalt class will be assigned to a carrier strike group. They will do the whole basic, advanced phase of training, integrated training, go deploy. They’ll be in the same under the OFRP [Optimized Fleet Response Plan], much like a cruiser or destroyer — but the capability that those ships bring is so unique that we really believe they belong in the SURFDEVRON so we can continually and rapidly experiment with them when they’re not on deployment.”

Capt. Henry Adams relieved Capt. Scott Carroll during a combined change of command/establishment ceremony.

“ZRON ONE embodied Adm. Zumwalt’s legacy of warfighting innovation by leading fleet integration of the revolutionary ship class that bears his name,” Carroll said. “Establishing this new squadron — with its focus on experimentation and future warfighting technology — fulfills and extends ZRON’s purpose to the rest of the surface Navy. Although the name has changed, I’m proud to note that Adm. Zumwalt’s innovative legacy will persist.”

Adams said his team will to work “to execute the Navy’s and surface warfare community’s vision to build an organization focused on fleet innovation and experimentation. We look forward to the challenge and to working with the broader community of interest — both inside and outside of the Navy — as we collaborate to realize SURFDEVRON ONE’s full potential.”

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