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Navy christens most expensive stealth destroyer ever

Published time: April 14, 2014 16:45
U.S. Navy's Zumwalt Class of multi-mission guided missile destroyer (Reuters / Joel Page)

U.S. Navy's Zumwalt Class of multi-mission guided missile destroyer (Reuters / Joel Page)

The United States Navy has finally christened a first-of-its-kind, state-of-the-art ship that, at 610-feet-long and roughly $7 billion, is the largest and most expensive stealth destroyer ever built.

Initially, the Navy wanted to commission the construction of 32 different DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyers, but escalating costs amid nearly two decades of development forced the Pentagon to eventually pursue only seven ships, then three.

On Saturday, the Navy held a christening ceremony in Bath, Maine to unveil the first of its Zumwalt ships — the aptly named USS Zumwalt — currently scheduled to officially join the US military’s fleet of destroyers next spring. When it does, it will bring with it the ability to let the Navy fire rocket-propelled warheads at breakneck speeds, and even launch GPS-guided ammunition at targets more than 60 miles away. According to the Independent, in the future it could be outfitted with laser weapons powerful enough to down unmanned drones from the sea.

Eventually, the USS Zumwalt is expected to be outfitted with an electromagnetic railgun currently in the works that will shoot projectiles at upwards of seven-times the speed of sound. Already, though, the Navy says the ship is so advanced that it is reportedly appears as only the size of a fishing boat when detected by an adversary’s radar.

U.S. Navy's Zumwalt Class of multi-mission guided missile destroyer (Reuters / Joel Page)

“You will see her on the horizon long before you detect her on the radar,” Sean Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, said of the ship to the Portland Press Herald.

The class of destroyers it’s the eponymous first ship are named in honor of Bud Zumwalt, a 32-year veteran of the Navy remembered for fighting adamantly to oppose racism and sexism since the start of his tenure as chief of naval operation in 1970.

"The christening of the future USS Zumwalt represents the beginning of another era of service for this great name," Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said in a recent statement. "Just as Admiral Elmo R. "Bud" Zumwalt helped shape our nation's Navy as the 19th chief of naval operations, DDG-1000 will help shape the future of surface combatants."

“She is, in the truest sense of the word, the first of her class. So too was Admiral Zumwalt,” Mabus said of the ship at Saturday afternoon’s christening, according to the Press Herald.

Concept view of the USS Zumwalt class destroyer (DDG-1000), image from http://peoships.crane.navy.mil

The former naval chief’s daughter, Ann Zumwalt, was one of two family members who broke bottles of champagne against the ship during Saturday’s ceremony.

“He strove for a Navy that was supportive, encouraging and compassionate towards all sailors, especially for minorities and women, a Navy that not only fought wars but also fought discrimination within its ranks,” she said of her late father, who passed away in 2000. He “would delight to see the crew members of this ship reflect a Navy that he envisioned in the 1970s,” she told the Press Herald.

But the space-age technology installed on the ship is perhaps something than even Bud Zumwalt himself may never have envisioned. A “Total Ship Computing Environment” designed by government contractor Raytheon will securely control all of the destroyer’s radar systems and weapons, and Business Insider went as far as to call the ship “basically a Swiss-army knife for missions of the future” in a recent report.

When research and development are considered, each Zumwalt destroyer will reportedly cost upwards of $7 billion — a main factor cited by the Pentagon when the number of ships ordered was cut from 32 down to three. The program itself was initially cancelled back in 2008 after Navy commanders voiced concerns that the ship lacked sufficient missile and air defense capabilities, according to the Los Angeles Times. Construction was restarted shortly after, and last year the military’s Navy Live blog reported that all three of the Zumwalt ships were more than 70 percent completed. Last year’s government shutdown put yet another obstacle in the way of the program, but the USS Zumwalt is expected to undergo at-sea trials next spring.

USS Zumwalt (U.S. Navy photo illustration)