The U.S. Navy has unveiled its most ambitious and expensive warship to ever hit the high seas: The Zumwalt DDG 1000.
Launched into the water earlier this week by General Dynamics, a Maine-based shipbuilder, the Zumwalt—named after the former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. “Bud” Zumwalt Jr.—is built for both land and water attacks, and is equipped with some of the world’s most advanced Naval weaponry. Its intended purpose, according to the Navy, is to “provide independent forward presence and deterrence” and to “operate as part of joint and combined expeditionary forces.” In other words: It’s a destroyer ship.
The ship’s appropriately titled “Advanced Gun System,” built by Raytheon, the global defense contractor, is designed to fire rocket-powered missiles at a distance of 63 miles, guided by a system five times more accurate than anything the Navy currently uses. The ship may be big, but it’s stealthy, too. The Zumwalt features a “tumblehome” hull, which keeps the ship’s location relatively clear from radar screens. And the ship’s propulsion system, designed by the maritime division of Rolls-Royce, can generate 78 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough wattage to power a laser weapon on board the ship’s deck—a much-rumored new feature of the Zumwalt.
They’re just rumors, so far, because the Navy hasn’t yet finished building the ship. Though General Dynamics launched the Zumwalt into water this week, the Navy won’t actually receive it until early 2014. At that point, Navy engineers will finish building out its weaponry system and activate the ship’s combat systems. The Navy predicts the Zumwalt will be ready for battle by 2016.
And yesterday, the Navy announced the ship’s commander-to-be: Captain James A. Kirk, a navy veteran. Yes, that’s right. Captain Kirk will pilot this futuristic vessel. (Hear that? That’s the sound of Star Trek fans high-fiving around the globe.)
The Zumwalt DDG 1000 is a large ship, 100 feet longer than any Navy destroyer that currently exists. It’s the length of two football fields, 81-feet wide, displaces roughly 15,000 tons of seawater, has an 11,000-square foot deck, and can carry a crew of 130 sailors. It also costs about $3.5 billion to build—or roughly the annual GDP of Fiji.
Still, she’s stealthy. Its “tumblehome” hull (basically an angular, forward-sloping frame) and concealed antennas make it difficult for combatant’s radars to pick up the ship’s location. According to the Navy, the ship is 50 times harder to detect than similar-sized destroyers—and it pops up on radar screens looking like nothing more than a big fishing boat.
The ship’s Advanced Guns System is designed for minimal sailor intervention. The guns can self-fire, so sailors don’t need to load shells or remove casings. When it’s finally built, the DDG-1000 is rumored to include an “anti-air megawatt class raygun,” essentially giant a free-electron laser beam. The ray gun would theoretically be able to destroy any incoming drones or missiles.
Guns.com calls the ship’s weaponry system “Tony Stark worthy.” That’s a good description. The ship is equipped with what’s called a “peripheral vertical launch system,” basically 20 four-cell systems placed around the perimeter of the deck. The Zumwalt also has two 155m gun systems, two 57 mm guns, and four 50-caliber machine guns on its deck.
The ship’s technical architecture is powered by Linux, and its data sits in IBM blade servers in the ship’s server rooms—all 16 of them. The ship even has some modern touches: Every screen and console on board the ship comes with touch screens.
Of course, all of these fancy tech toys and guns come with a giant price tag. In 2003, the Pentagon announced it was going to purchase 16 of the Zumwalt destroyers, but in 2008—the year the recession hit—it reduced its order to three ships. The ship costs about $3.5 billion—and the continued upkeep is in the millions.