Navy Gives Look Inside Futuristic $4.4B Zumwalt Destroyer

The destroyer USS Zumwalt, docked at the U.S. naval station in Newport, R.I., on Sept. 9. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
The destroyer USS Zumwalt, docked at the U.S. naval station in Newport, R.I., on Sept. 9. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

NEWPORT, R.I. -- The U.S. Navy gave a first look inside the stealthy and futuristic Zumwalt destroyer on Friday during the ship's first port stop at a Rhode Island naval station.

The 610-foot-long warship, built at Bath Iron Works in Maine, has an angular shape to minimize its radar signature and cost more than $4.4 billion. It's the most expensive destroyer built for the Navy.

The state-of-the-art warship is headed from Naval Station Newport to Baltimore, where it will be commissioned in October before going to its home port at Naval Base San Diego.

During a tour, the Navy showed off the ship's bridge, weaponry and mission center.

In the bridge, there are 180-degree windows and chairs for the ship's captain and executive officer to command the vessel. They overlook two gun mounts that resemble cannon barrels. The Zumwalt's powerful new gun system can unload 600 rocket-powered projectiles on targets more than 70 miles away.

In the mission center, about two dozen people can sit at consoles with multiple computer screens to plan missions, ranging from land attack and air defense to anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare and support for special operations forces. There's a large flight deck and two small boats on board in a bay that special operation forces can use.

It looks like a much smaller vessel on radar and it's quieter than other ships, which makes it hard to detect, track and attack.

Vice Adm. Tom Rowden mans, trains and equips the surface ships of the Pacific fleet, which will include the Zumwalt. He said Friday the Zumwalt will make a significant difference.

Its advanced technology and capabilities allow it to do a range of defensive and offensive missions, and project power, wherever it is needed, and that's generating tremendous excitement within the Navy, Rowden said. He said the Zumwalt will be a "very stabilizing" sight for allies and partners, and perhaps a "menacing" sight for potential enemies.

And, the Zumwalt's unique and significant capability to generate power could be used in ways perhaps not even envisioned yet, such as in the testing and use of laser and directed-energy weapons systems, Rowden said.

"We have the embodiment of the spirit of technological breakthroughs and the future of our Navy. I think we have the embodiment of Adm. Bud Zumwalt," Rowden said. "And I think as you combine those, and many other things together, what you really see is, tremendous, tremendous opportunity."

The ship is named after the late Adm. Elmo "Bud" Zumwalt, who earned the Bronze Star in World War II and commanded riverine boats that patrolled the Mekong Delta in South Vietnam. He became the youngest chief of naval operations and earned a reputation as a reformer who fought racism and sexism.

Capt. James Kirk, the ship's commanding officer, has pictures of Zumwalt and books about him in his office. Kirk said that the ship's commissioning will bring the admiral's legacy as a reformer back into the fleet.

Kirk said the Zumwalt's crew of 147 officers and sailors possess a high level of technical expertise, great teamwork and mental and physical toughness.

When asked about the inevitable comparison of the Zumwalt's skipper to Star Trek's fictional Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise, the real Capt. Kirk said it does come up "every now and again," but noted that he was named after his grandfather -- and his parents weren't Trekkies.

"But the first day I showed up at the Naval Academy, someone said, 'I can't wait till you're a captain,'" he said with a smile.

Additional equipment will be installed on the ship in San Diego, systems will be tested and the crew will train. Rowden said training and testing will last through 2017 and into 2018. He didn't speculate when the first deployment will happen.

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island visited the Zumwalt on Friday, and he and Rowden said technologies on board will likely be added to other classes of Navy ships moving forward.

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