Fu­ture of sea power ar­riv­ing in Bal­ti­more

Navy de­stroyer Zumwalt to be com­mis­sioned in city

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Ian Dun­can

NAVAL STA­TION NOR­FOLK, VA. — The fu­ture USS Zumwalt im­me­di­ately stands out from the older ves­sels docked here: It looks as if some­one has taken a hedge-trim­mer to ev­ery sur­face on the de­stroyer and cut back guns, masts and even the ship’s bridge.

What’s left is a gray slab jut­ting out of the wa­ter — a strik­ing de­sign aimed at mak­ing the huge ship dif­fi­cult for en­e­mies to find.

The Navy’s new­est and largest de­stroyer is sched­uled to slide into Bal­ti­more this evening — a few days ear­lier than planned so it can avoid Hur­ri­cane Matthew charg­ing up the Florida Coast. The ship is to be com­mis­sioned next week­end dur­ing a cer­e­mony in Lo­cust Point as part of Fleet Week.

The com­mis­sion­ing, when the ves­sel

re­ceives the des­ig­na­tion United States Ship and of­fi­cially joins the Navy’s fleet, is a ma­jor step for the $4.4 bil­lion ship — but there are still more steps ahead be­fore it sees ser­vice on mis­sions.

The jour­ney so far has been ar­du­ous. High hopes for the next-gen­er­a­tion war­ship ran into bal­loon­ing costs; the planned class of 32 de­stroy­ers has been slashed to three. An­a­lysts blame all the new tech­nol­ogy the Navy wanted to cram into the ves­sel.

Capt. James A. Kirk, the Bethesda man and Naval Academy grad­u­ate who com­mands the Zumwalt, says he doesn’t expect the ship to be­gin pre­de­ploy­ment test­ing un­til 2018.

Kirk ac­knowl­edged the chal­lenges with the ship’s de­vel­op­ment. But he said it’s al­ready show­ing its value to the Navy.

“The way I look at this is that only the United States of Amer­ica had this vi­sion to pur­sue this tech­nol­ogy and ad­vance the ball on naval war­ship de­sign and build­ing,” he said aboard the 610-foot ves­sel this week. “That’s a mar­velous thing that we have done, and we will learn from it.”

Out­side, work­ers were ap­ply­ing a fresh coat of gray paint ahead of the com­mis­sion­ing cer­e­mony.

Af­ter its stop in Bal­ti­more, the Zumwalt is sched­uled to head out to its home port of San Diego, where it is to un­dergo more in­dus­trial work be­fore be­ing put through its paces at sea.

Ul­ti­mately, the Navy hopes the Zumwalt — named for Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt Jr., the naval chief cred­ited with mod­ern­iz­ing the ser­vice in the 1970s — will be able to ful­fill a range of roles. Some­times it will travel with a car­rier bat­tle group, help­ing project Amer­i­can power around the globe. Other times it will sneak off by it­self or as part of a small group to launch spe­cial oper­a­tions mis­sions.

The ship is also likely to have a role in the de­vel­op­ment of new weapons, in­clud­ing lasers and elec­tro­mag­net­i­cally pow­ered rail­guns, which fire metal slugs at devas- The Zumwalt is one of three new-style de­stroy­ers to be added to the U.S. fleet. The price tag for the stealthy and tech­nol­ogy-loaded war­ship is $4.4 bil­lion. tat­ing ve­loc­i­ties.

Eric Wertheim, au­thor of the Naval In­sti­tute’s Guide to Com­bat Fleets of the World, said the Zumwalt is an an­swer to the pro­lif­er­a­tion of Rus­sian and Chi­nese de­signed anti-ship mis­siles, which threaten to block Amer­i­can naval forces from oper­at­ing safely close to coast­lines.

“They built this class to be very, very stealthy,” Wertheim said. He sees the Navy us­ing the ship in con­cert with the Marine Corps’ new F-35B stealth jets: “It can get really close to pro­vide that sup­port.”

The Zumwalt is the largest de­stroyer the Navy has ever built — in an ear­lier era, it could have been classed as a heavy cruiser. The ves­sel dis­places 15,600 tons, al­most twice as much as an Ar­leigh Burke-class de­stroyer.

But de­spite its size, nearly ev­ery­thing about the ship is de­signed to make it harder to spot on radar.

Its smooth sur­faces and un­usual shape de­flect ra­dio waves at odd an­gles. The su­per­struc­ture is made of a ma­te­rial more dif­fi­cult to pick up than metal. Smaller boats that could one day be used by Navy SEALs are hidden away in­side.

And where on a tra­di­tional ship, crew on the bridge would be able to look out of win­dows or step out­side to see the sur­round­ings, the Zumwalt’s of­fi­cers will rely on a suite of cam­eras that project im­ages onto tele­vi­sion screens.

The re­sult, Kirk said, is that the ship looks on a radar screen just one-fifti­eth of the size of an Ar­leigh Burke-class de­stroyer — one of which will also be in Bal­ti­more for Fleet Week — de­spite ac­tu­ally be­ing far larger.

The ship is de­signed to be quiet, too, mak­ing it hard to lis­ten out for.

The Zumwalt isn’t in­vis­i­ble to the naked eye, of course, but Kirk has an an­swer for that: “It’s an aw­ful big ocean.”

While the ship’s stealthy ex­te­rior is its most ar­rest­ing fea­ture, it has been de­signed to im­ple­ment many other new naval tech­nolo­gies. One of the first sights a vis­i­tor to the ship sees is an MQ-8C Fire Scout — a drone heli­copter — sit­ting in a han­gar.

Up at the front of the ship, its two main guns can lob GPS-guided, rocket-pro­pelled shells about 70 miles to lay down sup­port­ing fire to forces on the shore.

A com­puter sys­tem serves as the ship’s ner­vous sys­tem, au­tomat­ing many func­tions and dra­mat­i­cally cut­ting the crew from 329 sailors on the older de­stroy­ers to 147

spe­cial power sys­tem al­lows the crew to di­rect en­ergy where it’s needed, whether that’s driv­ing the ship for­ward at more than 30 knots or cook­ing meals for the crew. This ca­pa­bil­ity makes the Zumwalt a good can­di­date for test­ing high-en­ergy lasers — weapons that could com­bat the threat of mis­siles launched from bat­ter­ies on the shore.

Yet pack­ing all that new gear into a sin­gle ves­sel has not been with­out prob­lems. Dakota Wood, a mil­i­tary an­a­lyst at the con­ser­va­tive Her­itage Foun­da­tion, said the Zumwalt has suf­fered from what he de­scribed as a com­mon­prob­lem with ma­jor de­fense pro­grams: Officials, politi­cians and con­trac­tors get caught up in hyp­ing new tech­nol­ogy that proves dif­fi­cult to bring to fruition.

“Ev­ery­one in­volved has vested in­ter­est in be­liev­ing, or at least ac­cept­ing, the rosiest fore­casts: world-class prod­ucts in­cor­po­rat­ing the lat­est, and some­times not yet in­vented, tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances, de­liv­ered on time and at ‘af­ford­able’ prices,” Wood wrote in an email.

Wood said the Zumwalt does prom­ise some ma­jor ad­vances. But in­stead of be­ing a game-chang­ing new kind of ship that moves naval war­fare a gen­er­a­tion for­ward, he said, it’s more likely to rep­re­sent merely an im­por­tant step for­ward.

“The Navy needs to get the ships into the fleet, work with them, and see how they and their de­signs, ca­pa­bil­i­ties, tech­nolo­gies can be put to use, then take in­sights from that and ap­ply it to other ships, fu­ture de­signs, and evo­lu­tion of op­er­a­tional con­cepts,” he said.

IAN DUN­CAN/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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