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Navy’s futuristic destroyer Zumwalt goes to sea

The future USS Zumwalt is underway for the first time conducting at-sea tests and trials in the Atlantic Ocean. The multi-mission ship will provide independent forward presence and deterrence, support special operations forces, and operate as part of joint and combined expeditionary forces.
The future USS Zumwalt is underway for the first time conducting at-sea tests and trials in the Atlantic Ocean. The multi-mission ship will provide independent forward presence and deterrence, support special operations forces, and operate as part of joint and combined expeditionary forces. Handout

The Navy’s futuristic destroyer Zumwalt traveled down the Kennebec River in Maine and entered the Atlantic Ocean this week. 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 – which will receive its “USS” designation when it is christened – 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.

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