Zumwalt Stealth Destroyer: U.S. Navy Floats Newest Stealthy Warship

By Ben Wolford on October 30, 2013 11:09 AM EDT

The U.S. Navy unveiled its latest warship, the Zumwalt stealth destroyer, the military's largest destroyer.
The U.S. Navy unveiled its latest warship, the Zumwalt stealth destroyer, the military's largest destroyer.

The U.S. Navy has floated its newest stealthy warship, the Zumwalt-class destroyer, one of the military's most high-tech war machines, the Naval Sea Systems Command announced Tuesday.

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Even though it drifted successfully out of a dry dock in Maine on Monday, the USS Zumwalt is still only 87 percent complete. Workers still have to flesh out some of the hull before the delivery deadline next year. But the unique technologies that contribute to the $3.5 billion price tag are already apparent, the most striking of which is its dagger-like profile.

Like other stealth craft, its lack of right angles gives it a menacing look, like a massive maritime Lambourghini. But that's not an aesthetic touch; it's science.

Radars detect ships and aircraft by shooting radio waves into the distance and listening for the signal to bounce back into a radar antenna. The wave returns much more clearly when the object it bounced off of is perpendicular to the direction of the signal. The USS Zumwalt has an inward-sloping hull, which developers call a tumblehome hull, that disperses the radio waves and, according to GlobalSecurity.org, gives the 600-foot vessel the radar signature of a fishing boat.

The Zumwalt also does away with all masts and antennas, objects that can reflect radio waves. All of the radar apertures and communication antennas that normally give American destroyers a spiky, scaffolded appearance are built flat onto the surfaces of the deckhouse, according to Raytheon, one of the ship's developers.

This ship is radar-quiet, but it's also literally quieter, the Prius of the seas. It's got an all-electric propulsion system, which makes it more silent and efficient, requiring fewer crew members on board.

"This is the largest ship Bath Iron Works has ever constructed and the Navy's largest destroyer. The launch was unprecedented in both its size and complexity," said Capt. Jim Downey, the Zumwalt-class program manager, in a statement. "Due to meticulous planning and execution, the operation went very smoothly. I'm extremely pleased with the results and applaud the combined efforts of the Navy-industry team." 

The DDG 1000, as the Zumwalt stealth destroyer is also known, is the ship to lead all ships. After all, this isn't a reconnaissance ship, it's a killing machine. Because it travels so silently, it can nudge right up close to shore for littoral (i.e. close-to-shore) missions. Its "Advanced Gun System" is designed to fling "rocket-powered, precision projectiles 63-nautical miles," the Navy says. That makes it the perfect warship to back up covert operations and land attacks.

The USS Zumwalt will be operable, the Navy expects, by 2016. In the meantime, two more guided-missile destroyers are in line for production at the Bath Iron Works in Maine.

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