BATH, Maine — The U.S. Navy will enter a new age Saturday when the first DDG 1000, the USS Zumwalt — “the most capable destroyer in history” — is christened at Bath Iron Works.
The $4 billion guided missile destroyer, designed to provide missile and gun support for troops ashore, boasts advanced technology and the ability to accommodate advanced air missiles, rail guns and lasers. That advanced technology has led the new class to be dubbed “stealth” destroyers.
In November 2001, the Navy introduced the Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyer “as a transformation in the traditional design of destroyers that would make surface combatants more versatile, more survivable and more relevant to combat ashore,” defense industry analyst Loren Thompson said Tuesday. “I think the lead ship in the class has pretty much borne out [those] claims.”
The Zumwalt’s “multi-mission” capability — allowing it to engage in surface, littoral (shallow water) and air warfare — will be critical to the Navy in its heightened focus on Pacific, officials said.
“This vessel has so much more fighting potential than past destroyers that it may be the best solution for surface warfare in the Pacific,” said Thompson, of the Lexington Institute, based in Arlington, Va.
New technologies on the ship include a multifunction radar system designed to allow the ship to get closer to land without being detected; two advanced gun systems that fire Long-Range Land Attack Projectiles that can reach up to 63 nautical miles; an integrated undersea/anti-submarine warfare detection system; and a vertical launching system.
Perhaps more importantly, the Zumwalt’s integrated electric power will allow the Navy to add advanced air missiles, radars, rail guns, lasers and other advanced tools that will be important as the combat environment — and potential threats — evolve, Navy spokesman Lt. Robert Myers said.
During a November 2013 tour of the warship, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told BIW workers that the DDG 1000 “represents [an] important part in our Navy’s security. That its first assignment will be in San Diego … represents an important shift of our balance and assets and focus in America’s interest in the Asia-Pacific.”
In 2008, the Navy curtailed the Zumwalt class at three ships — all to be built at BIW, with the DDG 1001 due to join the fleet in 2017 and the DDG 1002 due in 2020 — based on concerns about escalating cost projections. But Thompson, the defense industry analyst, said Tuesday that once the destroyer joins the fleet, it may prove worth the price tag.
Despite its size — 610 feet long, 12 stories tall and weighing 15,760 tons — the DDG 1000 requires a crew of only 130, less than half the size of crews required by the 510-foot-long Arleigh Burke class of destroyers it was supposed to replace.
The Zumwalt class also requires an air detachment of 28 to operate two MH-60R helicopters and a Vertical TakeOff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or drone.
And its guns provide a high rate of accurate fire, at less expense, to support U.S. forces on land, Thompson said.
“Other destroyers could provide support using missiles, but the guns are cheaper and more effective in supporting ground troops,” he said, adding that the Zumwalt “substitutes computer logic and automation for crew so that over the lifetime of the ship, it is less expensive to operate, even though it’s bigger than a legacy destroyer. It’s a paradox of Navy budgeting that sometimes ships costing less, over the long run look more expensive because of the upfront investment.
“I think as the Zumwalt joins the fleet and its advanced features become better appreciated, the whole question of whether the program should have been stopped will be revisited,” he said.
The first of three Zumwalt-class destroyers underway at BIW, the DDG 1000, will carry the name of a chief of naval operations who waged a campaign to fight racism and sexism throughout the fleet.
Adm. Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt Jr., chief of naval operations from 1970 to 1974, is credited with transforming the service into “a kinder, gentler place to serve,” his son, retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. James Zumwalt, said Tuesday.
The elder Zumwalt worked throughout his 35-year Navy career to achieve equality for women and minorities and better conditions for enlisted men and junior officers, his son said.
“He really did what he could, as Time magazine described, to drag the Navy ‘kicking and screaming into the 20th century,’ for minorities and women,” James Zumwalt said.
As the son of two doctors who practiced during the Depression and didn’t focus on being paid, “I think it was the humanitarian aspect that he grabbed on to and let it rule his life,” the younger Zumwalt said.
But not everyone will be celebrating the new destroyer’s christening. Members of Maine Veterans for Peace, among other groups, will gather across the street from the Bath shipyard Saturday to call for the diversification and conversion of BIW to civilian uses.
Calling the ship “a colossal waste of money,” Bruce Gagnon, a member of the group that has protested such christenings across from the Bath shipyard for more than 10 years, said Tuesday that while Zumwalt’s efforts to bring racial and gender equality to the Navy “are positive … in the end, we have to remember that the military’s job is to kill people and break things up into pieces, smash things and destroy things.”
“The strategy of the Zumwalt is provocative,” he said. “To sneak up in a stealthy way on the coast of China and be able to blast them … is very dangerous at a time when things are already dangerous enough. How do we stop this madness? How do we end this community addiction to military spending? It’s an epidemic across the country because military spending is the only game in town anymore.”
Saturday’s event begins at 11 a.m. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, among others, will speak to those gathered.