Ahoy from the Zumwalt!/U.S. Naval Institute

 Proceedings Magazine – March 2016

By Capt. James Kirk, U.S. Navy

The DDG-1000’s journey began as part of the Surface Combatant 21st Century in the early 1990s during what was a rapidly changing strategic and operational environment following the collapse of the Soviet Union. A new naval strategy, culminated in the white paper “From the Sea” (O’Keefe, Kelso, & Mundy) and the subsequent naval strategy “Forward . . . From the Sea” (Dalton, Boorda, & Mundy, 1994), argued for an increased focus on power projection. Budget cuts drove the expensive-to-operate and -maintain battleships into retirement again, this time permanently.

Naval surface fire support remained a much-needed capability, but Tomahawk cruise missiles and precision-guided payloads from air platforms had proved their worth in Operation Desert Storm. Out of that stew came many ideas, one of which was an arsenal ship, a minimally manned vessel that was mostly a weapon magazine and the genesis of the DD-21 program.

Conceived in the 1990s age of booming information-technology developments, declining deficits, and network-centric warfare concepts, the DD-21 program arrived at a critical juncture in the post-9/11 era. When Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vern Clark rolled out Sea Power 21 to a Naval War College audience in the fall of 2001, among the Surface Combatant 21st Century family of ships was the DD-21, which soon thereafter was designated DD(X) before finally being unveiled in 2006 as DDG-1000. The lead ship, and therefore the class, was the  Zumwalt .

Over a period of several years, the initial plans to procure 32 of these ships were reduced to three. That reduction predictably hazarded the program into a breach of the Nunn-McCurdy Act in 2010 (Title 10, U.S.C. § 2433, Unit Cost Reports [UCRs], 1982). Subsequently, the DDG-1000 program was reviewed and restructured, and, as required by law, a report made to Congress by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recommended continuation and pursuit of cost-saving efforts. The volume-search radar was removed from the design with space, weight, and services retained and volume-search capability added to the multi-function radar, now known by the designation SPY-3, being the most visible change. Nonetheless, the ship remains costly and has fueled criticism from quarters both within and outside the Navy.

Of course, all of this is par for the course for Zumwalt. The admiral was hounded for many of his own initiatives to reform the Navy both from within and outside the service. Zumwalt himself is quoted as saying that he had a long list of critics and another long list of supporters, and that he was equally proud of both. Today, he is undoubtedly looking down on his ship and having a good chuckle. The Navy is rightly questioned on its capabilities in view of the cost. But there are some very straightforward reasons why the DDG-1000 will benefit our nation and the Navy.

First, the requirement for medium- to large-sized surface combatants is not waning, and the need for naval surface fire support remains. Since 1993 such capabilities have been limited in range, precision, and volume. The return of longer-range naval surface fire support to the fleet is a welcome capability. The Mk-51 advanced gun system, built by BAE, combined with the long-range land-attack projectile, provides operational commanders with long-range (65 nautical miles), precise, persistent, and volume fires. Each mount is capable of a sustained ten-rounds-per-minute firing rate.

With two magazines together carrying 600 rounds and the ability to replenish those rounds under way, our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines ashore will have significant firepower at their disposal. Theater and task force commanders will have a platform with the stealth to get in close and the capabilities to rapidly and persistently neutralize threats to the joint force. An enemy’s coastal missile and air-defense batteries, mine-deployment assets, and fast-attack craft bases can be held at risk and quickly neutralized with the combined capabilities of the DDG-1000. The value of adversaries’ forward outposts within striking distance of a  Zumwalt -class destroyer will plummet when these ships deploy. The combination of strike, stealth, and conventional capabilities make the ship uniquely suited to compete against anti-access and area-denial strategies.

The DDG-1000 is also a multi-mission warship. Antisubmarine and mine-warfare capabilities are provided by the SQQ-90 integrated undersea warfare (or IUSW) suite, giving operational commanders ample capability in a very quiet ship. The SQQ-90 combines a bow-mounted medium-frequency array (the SQQ-60) a high-frequency array (the SQQ-61), the SQR-20 multi-function towed array, and the SLQ-25 Nixie towed-decoy system. In combination with the SPY-3 radar’s periscope-detection capability and electro-optical and infrared sensors, the IUSW suite will challenge adversary submariner’s calculus. In addition, the in-stride mine-avoidance capability provided by the SQQ-61 HF array, such as that found in our  Virginia -class submarines, combined with the electro-optical surveillance systems, offers a significant advantage where mines may be deployed to counter access to our forces. The DDG-1000 is also designed to embark two MH-60R helicopters and has ample room for vertical take-off unmanned aerial vehicles. With either ship-launched vertical-launch antisubmarine rockets or MH-60R helicopters armed with MK 50/54 torpedoes, the DDG-1000 will be a formidable undersea-warfare player.

From an air-defense perspective, the DDG-1000 is expected to be a capable platform. Without the volume-search radar, the surveillance range is less than the Navy’s Aegis-equipped ships. But testing of the SPY-3 multi-function radar has demonstrated good performance in its initially intended role to search, detect, and track lower-elevation targets. It has undergone modification to conduct volume search and testing at Wallops Island Integration and Test Center, which is under way and will be further evaluated on the self–defense test ship in the not-too-distant future.

The  Zumwalt will be outfitted with standard and evolved Sea Sparrow missiles loaded into the Mk-57 peripheral vertical-launch system (PVLS), which is composed of 80 missile cells in 20 modules arrayed around the periphery of the ship’s hull. Twelve of these modules are located on the forecastle of the ship with six on each side, and another eight are aft adjacent to the flight deck with four on each side of the ship. In addition to their hefty plating on the interior, making any explosive force exit outward from the ship, each of these cells is both longer and wider than the Mk-41 VLS cells providing room for payload growth for future weapons.

In the information operations domain, the DDG-1000 is designed to be at the forefront of electromagnetic maneuver warfare. With stealth, highly automated emissions control and monitoring, and both surface electronic warfare improvement program and ship-signals exploitation equipment systems, the DDG-1000 will have significant signature-control advantages over current warships. In addition, the DDG-1000 is designed to support special operations. Stealth, a large flight deck nearly twice the size of a DDG-51’s and almost 20 feet higher above the waterline, an internal boat bay capable of carrying two rigid-hull inflatable boats of either size, and dedicated special-operations berthing and planning areas to execute tailored missions all make the DDG-1000 a suitable platform to support special operations.

In today’s operational environment, there are plenty of tactical challenges for which a stealthy, survivable platform that can deliver persistent, agile, precision, volume fires would be useful. The overall mission capability and survivability of the ship offers an answer to those tactical challenges. The agility and persistence of the surface force is of enormous tactical value; however, like the surface force writ large, at this point, the DDG-1000’s antisurface warfare capability is limited. Whatever offensive antisurface weapon is developed will undoubtedly be made compatible with the DDG-1000. The wisdom of eliminating the volume-search radar from the DDG-1000 even as it continued development for the  Gerald R. Ford –class carrier will be grist for some shipbuilding historian’s mill.

The hull form has its detractors, and the physics are not in dispute. The ship’s righting arm is almost three times that of other surface combatants. Up to and including sea state five, the ship is expected to ride well at all speeds and directions in relation to wave action. In extraordinary seas—wave heights greater than 20 feet (what mariners classify sea states 7 and above)—the ship can, if not sailed with care, experience undesirable righting motions. To address these concerns, extensive model testing at Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock, Maryland, has been conducted, and a safe operating envelope across these higher sea states, which are expected for no more than 400 hours over the 35-year service life of the ship, has been developed. Safe operating guidance has been issued for trials, and the in-service guidance is under review. In mid-to-late 2017, calm and heavy weather trials will be conducted to validate the model-based guidance and establish the in-service sailing envelope for the ship.

The DDG-1000 has the reserve margins in space, weight, and power to be adapted for that future. Because we know that the ship we buy is rarely the ship we retire, to reach the intended service life a ship must do two things: maintain healthy hull, mechanical, and electrical systems and have a combat system that is capable relative to any potential adversaries’ capabilities. A ship with a 35-year service life must have combat-system upgrades along the way. Each of those typically takes up a little more space, a bit more weight, and some additional power. Our current surface combatants bear this out. Designed in the 1970s and 1980s, these ships began entering the fleet in the 1980s and 1990s. New sensors, decoys, data-exchange systems, and many other changes have been made to these ships both as part of modernization efforts and forward fit in new construction with a little bit of space, weight, and power margin being taken along the way. The DDG 1000 was built to meet today’s requirements and has margin to spare, power in particular, to accommodate modernization for an uncertain future.

In addition, new technologies are on the horizon. Railguns and lasers—science fiction 20 years ago and only beginning to become technically feasible a decade ago—are in operation or being fielded today on the ex-USS Ponce and joint high-speed vessel, respectively. These and other capabilities are approaching a level of maturity that begs for their inclusion in a future combatant. New radars and increasingly power-hungry systems are no doubt on the drawing boards and workbenches in industry and our federally funded research-and-development centers. We must have greater power to meet those needs.

At just over 610 feet in length, nearly 81 feet abeam, and weighing in at just under 16,000 tons, the ship’s basic dimensions should give an idea of the DDG-1000’s sheer size. The shape is similarly striking. The wave-piercing tumblehome and superstructure shape, combined with the elimination of topside equipment, are inherently stealthy resulting in a radar cross section 1/50th of DDG-51-class ships. She has a twin-screw, fixed-pitch propulsion train with each shaft being driven by advanced induction motors (AIMs). The ship’s mooring stations, 16 of them, are concealed within the hull behind access doors to be opened at sea only when conducting mooring evolutions. Flight-deck nets are replaced with a flush-deck personnel support barrier system hidden beneath the deck. The stealth aspects of the ship reflect one of the primary design drivers for the DDG-1000—survivability, measure of a ship and crew to perform the missions for which it is intended.

The stealth aspects of the ship reduce the likelihood of detection, localization, and successful attack by an adversary. In combination with her offensive and defensive sensors and weapons, the DDG-1000 is less susceptible to successful attack than many, if not all, U.S. surface warships in service today. This ship’s size, stout structure, four independent fire/power/cooling zones, automated damage control and firefighting systems, smart valve enabled automatic piping isolation capability, and integrated fight-through power (IFTP) all contribute to lowering ship vulnerability.

Explaining the IFTP system is novel unto itself, but the essence is the use of DC power distribution. Instead of automatic bus transfer switches with their attendant power interruptions on switching, the DDG-1000 has redundant DC power sources with auctioneering diodes that allow seamless power-source shifting. These same systems intended to reduce vulnerability also improve recoverability. Peripheral damage area cooling of bulkheads will limit fire without putting sailors on hoses to cool boundaries. Automated recovery of power and propulsion is designed into the ship. The bottom line is that the  Zumwalt was designed and built to be a highly survivable platform.

The other primary design driver was to reduce the number of sailors required to operate the ship. To meet those requirements, a high level of automation was needed. The ship’s total ship computing environment (TSCE) is the system, both hardware and software, that provides an open-architecture solution to enable fewer sailors to perform mission-essential tasks. Eight million lines of code are wrapped into a couple hundred software ensembles that run everything from the 35-plus-megawatt generators, propulsion by AIMs, damage-control systems, and communications suite, sensors, and weapons. More than 32,000 sensor- and equipment-control signals are sent over a multiple managed ring hardware architecture to ensure redundancy and reliability of controls from remote stations.

The engineering plant, which is much larger than our current surface-combatant plants, is designed to be operated by just two sailors—one, the engineering officer of the watch, stationed in the ship’s mission center alongside the tactical action officer, and one engineering-control operator to monitor and operate equipment in the four auxiliary machinery rooms and three main machinery rooms.

On the bridge during normal steaming conditions, the watch consists of an officer of the deck, a junior officer of the deck, and a junior officer of the watch. The electro-optic visual system provides 360-degree surveillance at the integrated navigation and bridge console just above the watchstander, allowing 360-degree lookout capability. The automated announcing system permits reduced workload, eliminating the need for other watch stations unless the tempo of operations or weather require additional hands on deck.

Similarly in the ship’s mission center (SMC), which is the DDG-1000 nomenclature for the combat information center, fewer sailors are required than those found on our existing cruisers and destroyers. The SQQ-90 suite is designed to be operated by three sailors in contrast to the six required to operate the SQQ-89 system. Communications is designed to be controlled by two sailors, who also stand their watch in the SMC instead of a separate communications center.

Across the board, increased automation within the ship’s network has lowered manpower requirements. In addition, the maintenance plan for the DDG-1000 pushes longer interval maintenance ashore. Similar to the litorral combat ships, the DDG-1000 will require and have several weeks each quarter dedicated to planned and continuous maintenance availabilities. Essentially, quarterly and above preventive maintenance and repairs will be done by off-ship maintainers. Maintenance reviews are ongoing to ensure the crew has the correct maintenance procedures to sustain ship readiness while not overburdening the crew beyond the limit of the planned 147-sailor crew size.

So what lies ahead for the new ship? Delivery is expected to occur in the late spring to early summer. Soon thereafter, the crew moves aboard, and fitting out, training, and certification events will occur to ready the crew to safely sail and operate this warship. We will then sail away from Bath to ports yet to be assigned to show our nation what we received for the treasure provided. We will commission the ship in Baltimore, and the USS  Zumwalt will complete some testing and proceed to the Pacific, the rightful home of the Big Z. We will sail under the Coronado Bay Bridge to one of the piers already fitted out with the 4,160-volt power we require.

Soon after arrival in San Diego, the ship will begin a four- to five-month post-delivery availability to install equipment that was not part of the current contract. Concurrent with and following that availability there will be a year-long mission-systems activation effort. Because of the truncations from 32 to 3 ships, a fiscally prudent but technically challenging decision was made to use the ships instead of costly land-based infrastructure to test out many systems. It is a discomforting fact that inevitably will be filled with challenges. Those will also undoubtedly be solved by the hard work, ingenuity, and endurance of the government and industry team that has been assembled to bring this ship to the fleet. If we are good, and perhaps with some luck added in for good measure, execution of the Test and Evaluation Master Plan will commence in early 2018. Before long, like most of our Pacific Fleet, the USS  Zumwalt will be sailing past the  Arizona Memorial rendering honors, perhaps as the ship arrives for one of our biennial Rim of the Pacific exercises. Now that would definitely be an accomplishment and an adventure beyond compare.

Captain Kirk is commanding officer of the Precommissioning Unit  Zumwalt . He is a 1990 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a career surface warfare officer.

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