At Sea Aboard the Zumwalt

Inside the US Navy’s New Stealth Destroyer


ABOARD THE DESTROYER ZUMWALT — “All ahead one third on the starboard shaft.” The order was called out by the Bath Iron Works (BIW) conning officer, clearly heard in the hushed atmosphere of the pilot house. The bridge was dark except for the dim glow of flat-panel displays as the 16,000-ton destroyer moved away from the Portland, Maine, pier.

Perhaps 30 people were crowded into the space. The navigating team was led by Captain Earl Walker, the shipyard’s longtime chief pilot, and all the controls were manned by civilian engineers and shipbuilders working for BIW, which owns the Zumwalt until it is formally handed over this spring to the US Navy. Other engineers — from the shipyard, Raytheon and other manufacturers — looked over the operators’ shoulders.

Unusually for a ship on builder’s trials, the civilians were joined by about 130 members of the destroyer’s US Navy crew, on board to get their first chance to sit down and operate the ship that later this year they will call home.

This was the third night out for the Zumwalt on its second series of builder’s sea trials, the first “alpha” trials having been carried out in early December. The ship, which will eventually go to sea with a crew of 147, was carrying 388 souls, one of the highest numbers Zumwalt likely will ever carry during a planned service life of about 40 years.

The 610-foot-long destroyer moved out slowly from the pier, making a sharp left turn, then a right to come into the channel. As it moved out of Casco Bay into the Atlantic, a slight sea was running, enough to throw spray from its sharp, wave-piercing prow and occasionally spit on the bridge. A slight glow in the darkness ahead belied the white running light on the Zumwalt’s bow — a change from the mast position required on other ships because the destroyer’s stealthy design leaves nowhere else to put it.

Accompanying the Zumwalt was the small US Coast Guard cutter Moray. Coasties regularly escort warships in US coastal waters for security, but the Moray also carried a team from the Naval Sea Systems Command using a variety of instruments to measure the Zumwalt’s signatures. Checking out the ship’s stealth qualities is as much a factor as making sure the ship’s engines work properly. The stealth features are effective — the Zumwalt is very difficult to detect on radar. For safety, reflectors are temporarily rigged in the halyards so other ships can see the destroyer.

The Zumwalt’s stark, angular profile is unlike any other ship on the seas, the epitome of stealth design that seeks to minimize radar cross-sections (RCS) and heat and emissions signatures across visual, physical and electronic spectra. The decks are not designed for people to be out and about, and all the usual topside ephemera is either recessed or moved inside the ship.

The only objects protruding above the flat foredeck are the huge enclosures for the two 155mm guns of the advanced gun system (AGS), the largest naval guns installed as standard equipment to go to sea in decades. Ranged along the sides of the ship on the foredeck and along the flight deck aft are 80 missile cells in a new arrangement intended to use the blast shields of the cells to protect the ship, and keep the centerline free for the gun system. No railings or lifelines are visible, although stanchions can be rigged manually when in port. Those venturing out on deck must latch on to a safety line.

The ship moved out of the harbor with an SPS-73 navigation radar rotating atop a mast on the foredeck, but as it began to sway with the sea the mast was retracted, periscope-fashion, into the hull.

Shipyards use builder’s sea trials to check out all the ship’s features and identify fixes. The Zumwalt is filled with so many new technologies — 10 major groupings and dozens of smaller items — that BIW is running a nonstandard second trial. In April, the ship will go to sea again for acceptance trials, when members of the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey comes aboard to conduct their own assessment. If those trials are successful, the board recommends the Navy accept the ship, and a subsequent delivery ceremony marks the stage where ownership is transferred to the government and the ship enters naval service.

“The first trial we were out about a week, this time Monday to Thursday,” said Capt. James Downey, program manager for NAVSEA’s PMS 500 office which oversees the DDG 1000 program. He spoke March 23, the ship’s third night out. “The real point is to demonstrate those systems the same way we will do it for acceptance trials. This is a dress rehearsal for that, and to grade ourselves. We’ll collect all the data and go back and debrief and see how we did.”

Downey felt good about the Zumwalt’s stealth qualities. “I’m not worried about the RCS whatsoever,” he declared. “It’s looking good. It’s looking too good.”

Despite his engineer’s caution, Downey was upbeat about the trials. “So far we haven’t had any failures — no equipment failures, no demonstration failures.”

Those on board reported the first two days of the trials were held in relatively rough weather, but the Zumwalt’s unusual, tumblehome hull performed as expected.

“The ship handled well. It’s been an exceptionally stable platform. It handled very well,” said US Navy Capt. James Kirk, who will become the Zumwalt’s first commanding officer.

During the trials, the twin rudders were put hard over at 30 knots. Kirk was impressed. “I would have thought the ship would have significantly more heel” during such a turn, he said. “It was only about a 7- to 8-degree heel.”

Kirk was enthusiastic about the ship’s performance and about having his crew on board to learn to operate the ship.

“The Alpha trials demonstrated about 20 basic tasks and functions on the ship. During Bravo trials, we carried out more than 100 tasks,” Kirk reported.

The crew, he said, “got to integrate with the ship and operate under the supervision of BIW. You can’t beat that. The actual hands-on operation of the actual vessel is irreplaceable. On a class of ship that’s this different, where we have a lot of new technology, there is exceptional benefit for having this opportunity.”

This was also the first time the Zumwalt had been to sea with a reporter on board, providing an opportunity to get a look at some of the unique spaces and features on this highly classified ship.

The Bridge

Situated on the O-2 level, or the second level of the superstructure, the bridge is a large space that will have only three regular watch standers. Two positions are adjacent at the center, one for the junior officer of the watch (JOOW) and another for the junior officer of the deck (JOOD). The officer of the deck (OOD) has no seat, but is expected to stand and move about. The three positions will be filled by officers, not enlisted sailors. Manual machinery controls are between the two seated watch standers, while control and computer panels are provided for each position. The ship can be steered by autopilot, keyboard or mouse instructions or by rotating a small black knob that serves as the ship’s wheel.

The positions are nearly enclosed by a circular installation of consoles. From their seats, the JOOD and JOOW look past their engineering and navigational displays out to the bridge windows, while a fairly wide walkway is between the consoles and the windows. Overhead, the positions are nearly surrounded by eight large flat-panel screens, creating one of the most comprehensive bridge information displays afloat. Any display desired — a variety of sensors, intelligence inputs, cameras focusing on multiple areas around the ship — can be dialed in.

Flanking the JOOD/JOOW consoles are separate seats for the commanding officer, to starboard, and a commodore or the executive officer, to port. Those seats each have three large flat-panel displays overhead.

To the rear, two positions are provided for intelligence or mission planning purposes.

At the rear of each side of the pilot house are “alcoves” where the captain or OOD can conn the ship as it conducts an underway replenishment or docks and undocks. Two large, opening windows are provided, each big enough for two good-sized men to poke outside the skin of the ship to see down to the waterline.

Ship Mission Center

The ship’s nerve center is a huge command and control space two decks high, projecting from the steel-enclosed O-2 level into the O-3 level at the base of the composite superstructure that surmounts the ship. Three large flat-panel displays dominate the front of the room where 19 watch standers man console stations in four rows. The general layout of the consoles is somewhat similar to the latest Aegis Baseline 9 with similar user stations and common displays, although in a much larger space. The first and second rows handle weapons, including missiles, guns and anti-submarine and electronic warfare. Command and control positions occupy the third row, including seats for the commanding officer, tactical action officer and the engineering officer of the watch. Propulsion, engineering and information technology support personnel man the fourth row consoles.

Above and at the back of the SMC is a large, glassed-in second deck provided for mission planners, intelligence personnel or command staffs. There, they can function without disturbing the watch standers below while viewing the same common displays. Port and starboard of the SMC are additional enclosed spaces with more consoles and large panels to allow for specific mission planning or operations.

Below Decks

Down in the hull, a prominent feature is “Broadway,” a very large main-deck passageway running along the starboard side allowing ammunition and supplies to easily be moved to storage areas and magazines. The P-way, big enough for forklifts to drive through, is similar to those on the last generation of US battleships, which used the same descriptive term.

Broadway runs as far forward as the magazines for the two AGS guns. Just aft of the guns the open space is large enough for a number of workout machines to be placed for the crew, near a lounge where sailors can relax.

Amidships on the second deck are the mess areas. The wardroom for officers, goat locker for the chief petty officers, and mess for the crew are all served by the same, all-electric galley.

The two main machinery spaces each feature a power plant consisting of an advanced induction motor (AIM) and an MT-30 Rolls-Royce gas turbine together producing 39 megawatts, for a total output of 78 megawatts. Each AIM is directly connected to one of the ship’s two propeller shafts, eliminating the need for reduction gear. The machinery spaces are designed to be remotely operated.

Aft, a secondary ship’s mission center (SSMC) is installed on the port side. On a smaller scale than the large ship mission center, the SSMC is able to handle the same ship control functions as the SMC or the bridge and will function as the ship’s damage control center.

All the way aft is a large boat bay, big enough to store two 11-meter rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) one in front of the other. The RHIBs are on rails, and launch and recover on a titanium cradle that rises and tilts to connect with a heavy-duty rubber extendable ramp running through stern doors in the Zumwalt’s wide, flat transom. Nearby, berthing racks are installed for a 14-member special operations team, along with space for their weapons and gear.

Hangar and Flight Deck

No nets ring the flight deck, which instead features personal safety barriers. The PSBs reduce the ship’s signature and are automatic, unlike nets fitted on destroyers and cruisers which need to be raised and lowered by sailors. On the Zumwalt, the PSBs will rise as soon as a landing helicopter is trapped by the Aircraft Ship Integrated Secure and Traverse (ASIST) helicopter recovery and handling system. The ASIST latches on to the helo and moves it into the ship’s large hangar, which is fitted with a new, two-piece solid door that could be a prototype to replace doors on other ships.

“It’s very reliable — it’s very hard to get this out of alignment,” Downey said. “The door is very easy to operate — push a button and it operates even if the ship rolls through 90 degrees” side to side.


The opportunity for a crew to get sea time before a ship is delivered is rare indeed.

“We’ve been waiting for 33 months,” said Command Master Chief (CMC) Dion Beauchamp, the ship’s top enlisted sailor. “It was very important for us to be aboard. The shipyard was gracious to allow us to do this.”

It was the second time the crew had been underway on the Zumwalt. The first was a day trip during the December Alpha trials, when the crew boarded the ship in Portland and rode it back to Bath. This time they boarded in Portland, but helped operate the ship for about 22 hours before returning the following day to the shipyard.

In addition to the Zumwalt crew, about half a dozen engineers from the crew of the Michael Monsoor, second unit of the three-ship class, were on board to familiarize themselves with the engineering plant.

Crew members took part in a number of operations and tests, from conning the ship to handling the engines to learning to operate the anchor — placed inside the ship and lowering through the bottom. The high degree of system integration aboard the Zumwalt, Beauchamp said, means sailors aren’t just learning to operate specific pieces of equipment. “This is operating a system of systems.”

Beauchamp, a veteran sailor who has served on an aircraft carrier, a cruiser and two frigates, said he had to learn 19 new technologies as a Zumwalt crew member, but he had an advantage.

“As part of the commissioning crew, you get experiences other crews don’t. You sit here with the group who designed these systems.”

He pointed out the difficulties in becoming part of the Zumwalt’s company. “All sailors have to have passed their last rating exam and do well at it,” he said. “Only one crew member is younger than 21.”

Chief Fire Controlman Dave Aitken normally operates weapon systems, but it will be another two years before the Zumwalt’s combat systems become operational. With the concentration on the hull, mechanical and engineering areas of the ship, Aitken and the FCs under his charge had other duties during the trials, working often with civilian engineers.

“The sailors learned from the Raytheon folks,” Aitken said, mentioning the prime contractor for the Zumwalt’s combat systems. “On the underway they sat at the consoles with a Raytheon guy looking over their shoulders.”

“There are no Tomahawks or weapons on this ship,” he added, “but we assist the other half of the combat systems department. We help the IT department with the integrated systems — communications, the total ship computing environment.” The experience, he said, will mean that “after our gear gets installed, the sailors are going to better understand how they fit into the system.”

Kirk, the commanding officer, was enthusiastic about what was accomplished on the trials.

“Every sailor has to share the burden of operations. Every sailor has benefited from this time at sea,” he said. “We were able to get more done than we’d planned before the trip. That was a happy surprise for the crew.”

Embarking the crew on the trials was also a positive for Downey, the program manager.

“They seem to have enjoyed operating the ship,” he said. “From what I’ve seen from the industry and Navy guys who have been working on it, there’s a lot of positive feedback from having the crew here — along with the extra energy and enthusiasm that they’ve brought, having the chance to operate the ship.”

Downey appeared pleased as the ship entered the Kennebec River to return to the shipyard.

“We’ve met all our planned objectives,” he said. “I don’t have any failed demonstrations. We’ve got to go through the data and get ready for the next big test here in about three to four weeks — acceptance trials.”

Those Navy-run acceptance trials are expected to take place in mid-April. If all goes well, the ship will be delivered and the crew will move aboard May 20. Months of pier-side training and certifications will follow, and the Zumwalt will leave the shipyard for good in September. A commissioning ceremony is scheduled for Oct. 15 in Baltimore, and the destroyer is planned to arrive at it home port of San Diego in early December.

Even then, the Zumwalt will be a long way from being ready for service. Under a two-part, phased delivery plan approved in 2007, the ship will begin a six-month post-shakedown availability at a San Diego shipyard in January, and for most of the year, the full combat system will be installed, including weapons, sensors and programming upgrades. Combat system sea trials will be in early 2018 off California, and only after that will the ship train up to deploy.

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