Somewhere between a spaceship and a warship falls the USS Zumwalt and it’s somewhat fitting that it is sailing for the first time under the command of James Kirk.
The Zumwalt is nothing short of a strange ship
The Zumwalt is a strangely shaped vessel that must prove itself on the open sea in the coming months before it can join the U.S. Navy’s fleet next year. Leaving Bath, Maine today it’s clear that the boat can float but the all sorts of unique ship has to prove some doubters wrong and show that its design makes sense.
“We are absolutely fired up to see Zumwalt get underway,” said Kirk, according to the Tampa Bay Times, “For the crew and all those involved in designing, building, and readying this fantastic ship, this is a huge milestone.”
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Over 200 residents, sailors and shipbuilders gathered on Tuesday to watch the odd-shaped, 610-foot, 15,000 ton destroyer make its way past Fort Popham along with the tugboats needed to get it to the ocean. Kelly Campana, a Bath Iron Works employee whose firm built the ship was in attendance.
“This is pretty exciting. It’s a great day to be a shipbuilder and to be an American,” she said. “It’s the first in its class. There’s never been anything like it. It looks like the future.”
A retired Raytheon employee who worked on the ship, Larry Harris, watched from Bath as the ship set sail.
“It’s as cool as can be. It’s nice to see it underway,” he said. “Hopefully, it will perform as advertised.”
Stealthy, big, and the Zumwalt’s automation means smaller crew.
The stealthy ship was built to escort larger ships and keep them protected from potentially lethal smaller ships. The U.S. Navy at present has 62 Arleigh Burke class destroyers with thirteen more under construction already tasked to these same protection duties.
A Burke-class crew is comprised of over 250 sailors where the automation of the Zumwalt-class ships will pare the crew down to 154 officers and sailors. Additionally, the ship provides enough electric power that once the navy develops rail guns or lasers the Zumwalt will easily power them.
However, there is some concern over the ship’s “tumblehome” design. In theory, it will be considerably more stealth than a Burke-class destroyer but also runs the risk of sinking in high and heavy seas.
This was perhaps best explained by Defense News reporter Christopher when in 2007 we wrote:
Nothing like the Zumwalt has ever been built. The 14,500-ton ship’s flat, inward-sloping sides and superstructure rise in pyramidal fashion in a form called tumblehome. Its long, angular “wave-piercing” bow lacks the rising, flared profile of most ships, and is intended to slice through waves as much as ride over them. The ship’s topsides are streamlined and free of clutter, and even the two 155mm guns disappear into their own angular housings.
The shape was popular among French naval designers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and a number of French and Russian battleships — short and fat, without any wave-piercing characteristics — were put into service. But several Russian battleships sank after being damaged by gunfire from Japanese ships in 1904 at the Battle of Tsushima, and a French battleship sank in 90 seconds after hitting a mine in World War I. All sank with serious loss of life. Both the French and Russians eventually dropped the hull form.
The Zumwalt’s construction delays and cost overruns
The Zumwalt-class destroyer early in its life was meant to be the new backbone in the navy’s surface fleet with a production run of 32. However, cost overruns that have taken the cost of each of the three ships the Navy has ordered up to about $4.5 billion each. Those overruns as well as the delays saw the Navy’s destroyer production revert back to the Arleigh Burke class.
Now the Zumwalt-class will have an opportunity to show that the shipbuilders and designers knew what they were doing when the designed the new destroyer.
If it can survive the open sea, it will be a formidable opponent on the water with a variety of weapons at its disposal.
The Zumwalt will boast the Advance Gun System which will see to 155mm naval guns installed on each ship. The two guns will fire the Long Range Land Attack Projectile that consists of a rocket with a warhead fired from each gun. At 24 pounds, the warhead has a circular error of probability of 50 meters. It’s range is roughly 83 nautical miles and the automatic storage system will hold 750 rounds and fires at a rate of 10 rounds per minute per gun. In order to have sufficient stability to fire at that rate with accuracy, ballast tanks on the Zumwalt will lower the boat into the water.