Oddly enough this post is completely non-fictional. It was going to be named “Death in the Sky and on the Sky and on the Water PT 2” but this title was better. The Zumwalt destroyer is a brand new class of warship for the US Navy. It’s supposed to be an all around workhorse for the navy offering fire support in any number of missions. The Zumwalt is a technology demonstrator. In short the Navy picked a boat that they wanted to stick all their new technology into and see if it wouldn’t blow up. Like all new military technology the boat is designed around stealth and ballistic missile deployment.
This destroyer class along with guided missile cruisers will take the historical place of battleships in the US Navy. We no longer have any battleships. The last Iowa class battleship was decommissioned in the ’90s. Battleships are huge ships with lots of very large, if old fashioned, guns. They had slowly been drifting into obsolescence with the rise of the Aircraft carrier which replaced the battleship as the Navy’s foremost “Capital Ship” after World War II. There isn’t a one to one equivalence between a pre-1950s navy and a modern navy. Capital ships are now carriers and the roll of attack ships which used to be the Battleships are now destroyers and cruisers. Historically, cruisers and destroyers were support ships designed to protect the battleships and other auxiliary missions where a huge ship would have difficulty operating. Now they form the bulk of the Navy’s attack power thanks the rise in guided missiles. Right now our ballistic missile defenses are on Ticonderoga class missile cruisers and Arleigh Burke class destroyers.
So why the new ship? Because those are all old technologies and the Navy isn’t sure how to integrate all the new technologies on a warship. For example the Zumwalt class destroyer has a Tumblehome hull. Instead of riding on top of waves it’s long and narrow and designed to slash right through them. In theory this is more stable, but it might also make some maneuvers more complex. It also has the added benefit of greatly reducing the radar cross section. Which isn’t the only stealth technology featured by the Zumwalt. The deck and deckhouse are all crafted with composite materials to reduce the radar. Since it’s a boat it’s also designed with stealth technology from a sonar perspective. If the Zumwalt proves successful the navy will probably design future ships around these designs. Additionally the ship will have far more automation and a more sophisticated computer system than other ships along with new power systems and propulsions.
While the zumwalt does not currently possess directed energy weapons or a railgun, both weapons systems have been proposed for the destroyers. Either weapons system will need a great deal of power generation relative to ship size that isn’t related to propulsion and other technologies. Both the railgun and lasers are still in development, but the basic research and development is far enough along that the navy is considering how they would put them on the water. In part, their answer is the Zumwalt.
The major deficiency of the Zumwalt is the lack of ballistic missile defense. For this the navy is sticking with the tradition Ticonderoga Cruisers and the Arleigh Burke since those ships posses the Aegis missile defense system. The Zumwalt doesn’t have this mostly because it’s exceedingly expensive and because the Aegis is due for upgrading. They may consider putting in a system in the future, or ordering more boats with that system installed.
Oh and yes, the first Zumwalt class destroyer, the USS Zumwalt really is commanded by Captain James A Kirk. Thank heaven his middle name isn’t Tiberius.