The Navy’s futuristic destroyer USS Zumwalt traveled down the Kennebec River in Maine on Monday, maneuvering toward the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a path that many vessels have taken after being built at the Bath Iron Works shipyard, but it also signals the start of something significant: sea trials that will begin to reveal the unusually designed ship’s abilities afloat.
The long anticipated 610-foot-long, 15,480-ton destroyer has an unconventional pyramid-shaped hull that slopes out at the bottom with a stealthy “tumblehome” design, rather than sloping in like most warships. That should make it harder to find on radar, but also has long raised questions about how stable it will be when facing tough seas.
The vessel cost more than $4 billion to design and build, and is the first in a $12.3 billion, three-ship class named after Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, who served as chief of naval operations during the latter years of the Vietnam War. It also includes a new all-electric power design in which the ship’s gas-turbine engines power generators, rather than propellers, providing it with electrical energy that could be used to power high-tech weapons never before seen at sea. The propellers are powered from the electricity through electromagnets, conserving energy for other tasks.
As this story notes, the Zumwalt class was originally supposed to include 32 ships. As its cost grew, however, some senior Navy officials tried to kill the program. Instead, it was shrunk to three ships: The USS Zumwalt, the USS Michael Monsoor (named after a Navy SEAL who was killed in Iraq and earned the Medal of Honor) and the USS Lyndon B. Johnson (named after the 36th U.S. president). Navy officials were considering cancelling the third ship, according to several reports this fall.
The Zumwalt, christened last year, also is to be a test-bed for one of the Navy’s most futuristic weapons, an electromagnetic rail gun under development by the Office of Naval Research. It uses electromagnetic pulses to launch projectiles at Mach 7, or seven times the speed of sound, at targets up to 110 miles away. It is commanded by Navy Capt. James Kirk, who shares his name with the famous “Star Trek” captain.
Both the Associated Press and the Navy released images of the first Zumwalt heading to sea for the first time. Check them out here:
UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect that the Zumwalt was christened last year.