BATH — Bath Iron Works on Thursday continued final preparations for the launch of the future USS Zumwalt, the first-of-its-class, nearly $4 billion stealth warship slated to float into the Kennebec River about five years after construction began.
The DDG 1000 destroyer boasts a futuristic design and technology aimed at providing the U.S. Navy with advanced missile and gun support for shallow water and land attacks.
“It’s a huge jump in technology for Navy warships,” Cmdr. David Hart of the U.S. Navy said Thursday of the destroyer, which is scheduled to be delivered for service in fall 2015. “BIW has excelled at challenges. We’re looking forward to getting it.”
Hart and BIW employees spoke Thursday during an exclusive tour provided to the BDN of the 12-story DDG 1000.
“This one is really, really different,” BIW painter Michael Sewall Jr. said Thursday of the Zumwalt. “It’s a ship of its own class. It’s never been built before. And the crew takes great pride. We’re showing the world why we are the best. When this ship goes, they’ll make sure the Navy’s getting the best ship.”
Nothing about the Zumwalt is like previous destroyers, electrician Ben Belanger said while shimming a row of computer terminals on the bridge that, even while still draped in tarps, is reminiscent of the “Star Trek” command center.
“It’s a big build,” said electrician Chris Brewer, who has been working aboard the DDG 1000 for 15 months testing insulation on electrical cables to ensure they can tolerate surges from the 4,000 volts required to power the destroyer’s propellers and other systems. “It’s very complex. It’s been a big learning curve, and a huge change for everybody. We’ve had good days and bad days, but for the most part, they’re good days.”
The high-technology Zumwalt class originally was planned by the Pentagon to replace the DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, which have been under construction at Bath Iron Works since the late 1980s. In 2008, however, the Pentagon scuttled that plan because of concerns about the cost to build the Zumwalt. Before it changed course, though, the Pentagon had agreed to construction of three Zumwalts, all of which are being built in Bath.
The Zumwalt’s primary function is land attack — to provide missile and gun support for troops ashore, said Todd Estes, manager of the DDG 1000 program office at BIW.
Despite its size — 610 feet long, versus the 510-foot DDG 51 — the Zumwalt requires a crew less than half the size: 130 people, plus an air detachment of 28 to operate two MH-60R helicopters and a Vertical Take-Off and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or drone.
The “tumblehome” hull of the DDG 1000 also is distinct, designed to “pierce” waves, according to the Navy. The superstructure shape and arrangement of the antennas are designed to make the ship far less visible to enemy radar. The destroyer also features a new, multifunction radar system.
Two advanced gun systems fire Long-Range Land Attack Projectiles that can reach up to 63 nautical miles. According to the Navy, the increased precision, volume and persistent fire support provide “an approximate five-fold improvement in naval surface air range.”
The “most complex surface combatants the U.S. Navy has ever developed,” the Zumwalt’s capabilities “make it a 100 percent globally deployable asset to the fleet,” Capt. Jim Downey, the Zumwalt class program manager, said Friday in a statement.
The destroyer also offers a far superior quality of life for the crew, Estes said, noting features such as fewer sailors per quarters, high-end food preparation and satellite laptops.
While the Zumwalt will never be home, he said, “The sailors are going to have it really good at sea.”
Construction of the Zumwalt, named for Navy Adm. Elmo R. “Bud” Zumwalt Jr., began in February 2009, and the ceremonial keel laying took place in November 2011.
The DDG 1001, the future USS Michael Monsoor, is scheduled for delivery in early 2015, and the third warship, the DDG 1002 to be named the USS Lyndon B. Johnson, is due in 2018.
“We’re getting what we paid for,” said Jeff Chicoine, hull manager for the DDG 1000 for the U.S. Navy. “We’re proud of it. The shipyard does a tremendous job.”
Hart on Thursday declined to speculate about whether the Navy might eventually restart the DDG 1000 program. But Estes said, “This is going to be a huge opportunity for the Navy for the future potential for ships. If they want us to build more, we’re ready to build them.”