With all the recent talks about drones and drone strikes, it seems that the Navy’s new stealth destroyer has lived up to its name, quietly slipping into the water off the coast of Bath, Maine, without attracting much attention. The USS Zumwalt is the first of its kind—its kind being DDG-1000 destroyers.
The vessel may be 610 feet long and 81 feet wide, but for a ship that size it is relatively light. That’s because it’s made from a light carbon fiber composite. The Zumwalt will carry cutting-edge weapons that allow it to target and destroy objects, vessels, fish, or whatever it wants from a great distance. As impressive as that is, the most noteworthy attribute of the ship is its stealth. That carbon fiber composite renders the Zumwalt extremely difficult to pick up on radar—about 50 times more difficult than a typical destroyer. The design keeps the ship low to the wave and angled in such a way to help avoid detection. A Naval Sea Systems Command spokesperson says, “it has the radar cross-section of a fishing boat.”
Just because the Zumwalt is now in the water doesn’t mean it’s ready for use in missions, however. It still needs to be loaded up, namely, a pair of Advanced Gun Systems, whose rocket-powered shells can obliterate targets over 60 miles away with the help of computer guidance. It will also carry a missile launching system that can fire 80 missiles, including cruise and surface-to-air missiles. The Zumwalt will also function as an aircraft carrier, capable of carrying and launching two helicopters or four unmanned aerial vehicles. And speaking of unmanned, the crew (150) is roughly half the size of a conventional destroyer (275) because of the auto-firing capabilities of the weapons on board.
After investing $9 billion in research and development and $20 for design and delivery, the Navy initially wanted seven of these ships. Due to even higher costs, as well as some pushback from skeptics who thought the project was trying to implement too much new technology too soon, the Navy had to scale back to three. The Zumwalt will soon have a couple brothers, but until then it can enjoy being the largest stealth ship in the U.S. Navy.
The recent government shutdown delayed plans for the Zumwalt’s inauguration, which is now scheduled for sometime next spring. The construction and implementation of the weapons systems will conclude around then, and the ship will have some tests at sea next fall, and should be ready for missions in 2015.
Here’s the kicker: the commander of the Zumwalt will be Captain James A. Kirk. Captain James T. Kirk would certainly be both impressed and envious, as he’s coveted a cloaking device for a long time, and had to steal one from the Romulans to get his own. Sadly, the U.S.S. Enterprise has already been used at least eight times for naval vessels, but I’m pretty sure the Navy hasn’t yet named a ship Galactica.