Image: Flickr/Stuart Rankin
Image: Flickr/Stuart Rankin
Say hello to the next generation in naval superiority: the Zumwalt-class destroyer, a cutting-edge ship designed with stealth, firepower and efficiency in mind. For its crew, life aboard this futuristic vessel is certainly unlike any other that’s come before it – in fact, some of its features could be straight out of Star Trek.
The first in a planned series of three U.S. Navy ships, the Zumwalt-class DDG 1000 was christened at a shipyard in Bath, Maine. It began sea trials in late 2015.
The DDG 1000 is the pinnacle of naval technology. It boasts an all-electric integrated power system, advanced weaponry and a tumblehome hull – meaning it narrows above the waterline.
Indeed, the ship’s striking angular and futuristic appearance is not without purpose: its strange shape helps mask the destroyer’s true size by reducing its radar signature to equal that of a simple fishing boat. This is despite the fact it’s actually almost one-and-a-half times the size of its predecessor, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.
In fact, with a length of 610 feet and a width of up to 81 feet, the DDG 1000 is the largest ship ever to carry the moniker of a “destroyer”. And it backs up that impressive stature with some serious firepower.
The ship boasts a pair of 155mm guns – the largest of any vessel since World War II – and, thanks to its powerhouse electrical engine, it’s future-proof too. The ship has the power reserves to house laser or “directed-energy” armaments, should they ever become available.
Gas-powered turbines aboard the DDG 1000 generate a huge 78.5 megawatts of electrical power – a massive leap from its predecessor’s nine megawatts. Thanks to that power, it’s fair to say the DDG 1000 isn’t going to become obsolete any time soon.
Yet while the Zumwalt may have been designed with the future in mind, it celebrates a name from the past. Elmo Russell Zumwalt, Jr. was the youngest man to ever serve as Chief of Naval Operations, at the spry age of 49 years old. The ex-Admiral played a key role in the Vietnam War and his policy reformations helped to improve race relations within the U.S. Navy.
When the Zumwalt program was conceived, the U.S. Navy planned to build a total of 32 destroyers. However, due to the high cost of the futuristic technology involved, the program was repeatedly scaled back.
Nevertheless, three destroyers were still given the go-ahead, albeit with a significantly higher cost for each ship. In February 2009, construction on the first craft began.
Each vessel may cost nearly $4 billion to construct, but the DDG 1000 requires far fewer personnel to sail it than previous destroyers, with only 140 officers and enlisted staff needed. This is mainly thanks to the ship’s groundbreaking automation system, known as the Total Ship Computing Environment (TCSE).
If anything should go awry aboard the ship, from the crew’s showers to the gun turrets, the TCSE won’t immediately raise the alarm. Instead, it will attempt to make any necessary adjustments it can, before then notifying the relevant crew member – a bit like the ship’s computer in Star Trek.
This amazing level of automation makes the Zumwalt not just a different class of ship, but almost a different world for its tight-knit crew. The increased size but reduced number of personnel allows for a far more comfortable and spacious standard of living than found on other warships.
Squeezing so much computing power onto a ship – even one of the Zumwalt’s size – might seem like a difficult task but in fact, it only requires 16 of the unassuming grey boxes you see above. Each Electronic Modular Enclosure holds 235 electronics cabinets into one handy unit.
Even if the Navy isn’t quite ready to roll out lasers just yet, the ship’s current weapons systems still pack a mighty powerful punch. Its 155mm forward guns can hit their target from an astonishing distance of 63 nautical miles – that’s more than 70 miles on land – while the integrated MK57 Vertical Launching System can fire missiles at targets on land, in the sea and in the air.
Image: Flickr/Marion Doss
While the craft has no had reason yet to use its imposing armaments in anger – and hopefully never will – the conceptual image above shows what the Zumwalt would look like in action. Fearsome.
The way the DDG 1000 has been designed will allow these weapons systems to be easily swapped out or upgraded when the time comes, further ensuring the craft’s longevity in the Navy’s fleet. The ship also carries leading-edge sonar technology to detect underwater dangers.
If you didn’t think the Zumwalt was quite sci-fi enough, consider the fact that it is skippered by a certain Captain James Kirk. And just like Star Trek’s Enterprise, the DDG 1000 is an inimitable vessel, Kirk told Defense News. “What makes her unique is the power she generates, the survivability that is inherent within lots of her features, and then that gun,” he said. “That is a unique aspect for this ship.”
Image: U.S. Navy via CNET
The U.S. Navy may ultimately scrap the third Zumwalt-class destroyer due to budget issues. However, the second craft – named the USS Michael Monsoor, after a Navy SEAL who fell in the Iraq war – is still expected to sail in 2016.
Image: Flickr/Times Asi
But no matter the fate of the third ship, we can still marvel at the immensely impressive feat of modern machinery that is the Zumwalt-class destroyer. Hopefully just the sight of it will be enough of a deterrent and it won’t ever need to call on its devastating, futuristic firepower.