Hail to the USS Zumwalt

Hey, we’re all in need of a feel-good story, right? I have one for you.

Just a week or so ago the US Navy successfully launched its newest warship, the USS Zumwalt. The Zumwalt is the first of the DDG-1000 class of destroyers—610 feet long and 81 feet wide. If you want to make the comparison, the Zumwalt is longer and narrower than the USS Arizona, a WWII-era battleship sunk in the battle of Pearl Harbor.

US Naval Photo

The ship is long and narrow, built on space-age angles that reduce its radar signature to that of a small dingy. And, when you look at the picture of this remarkable work, one of the first things you are tempted to say is, “wow, that looks like something that came straight out of the future.”

This is where the story gets better.

The man who will captain the Zumwalt is named James Kirk. Yeah. I’m not joking. James Kirk is the captain. But unlike the James Kirk who captained the USS Enterprise of Star Trek fame, this Captain Kirk’s middle name is not Tiberius. That would be too weird.

And, is it wishful thinking or can you can almost hear “I’m giving her all she’s got, Captain,” bellowing up from below decks in a thick Scottish accent?

You will not be surprised to learn that the Navy wanted seven of the ships, but could only get three because of developmental cost overruns. This ship cost US taxpayers a cool 4 Billion. It’s crew will be a paltry 153 officers and men. Part of the reduction in sailors is that the new technologies do not require as much human interaction. For example, the long-range guns pretty much load and shoot themselves, controlled by tech-savvy enlisted men on computers.

You would expect some unique and even marvelous results at a $4B price. Well, making a ship of that size and displacement appear on radar to be the size of a fishing boat is pretty impressive. The electronics are reported to be the next great thing, a generation of new and capable beyond what we have ever seen. The ship’s radar is purported to be the best ever put on a ship.

Much of the ship’s superstructure is wrapped in a huge canopy of lightweight carbon-fiber composite. The canopy and the rest of the ship is built on angles that help make it 50 times harder to spot on radar than an ordinary destroyer.

The Zumwalt is out of dry dock at Bath Iron Works in Maine, but still a long ways from being ready to put to sea. What happens next is the installation of a considerable arsenal of weapons, including two Advanced Gun Systems (AGS), which can fire rocket powered, computer-guided at targets 63 miles away. That’s three times farther than ordinary destroyer guns can fire.

The new destroyer will also be equipped with a missile launching system capable of firing 80 missiles, including Tomahawk cruise missiles and Seasparrow surface to air missiles. It will be able to carry and launch two Seahawk helicopters or four unmanned drones. It is rumored to have a Spock with Vulcan mind grip. (Forgive that last one…).

According to Navy sources, the Zumwalt’s primary function will be land attack—to provide missile and gun support for troops ashore. Now, with the ship’s scheduled delivery set for some time in 2015, t the specific assignments and missions this new ship will fulfill are anyone’s guess at this point.

But with Kirk at the bridge, common sense would lead us to speculate that “it will boldly go where no man has gone…”

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