A few days ago, construction of the first DDG 1000, the USS Zumwalt, passed a milestone. Seemingly without effort, the skilled workers at Bath Iron Works shipyard raised a 1,000 ton deckhouse 95 feet in the air, slid the ship’s hull underneath and lowered this massive structure to its precise position on the Zumwalt’s deck. If you want to see what this looks like go to Chris Cavas’ piece on the Defense News blog.
The DDG 1000 is a marvel of naval design and U.S. technological ingenuity. 155 feet long and 65 feet high, the integrated deckhouse, built entirely of composites and designed to reduce the ships’ radar, infrared and electromagnetic signatures, is just one of the Zumwalt’s advanced features. The deckhouse also contains the ship’s high tech bridge, and the dual-band radar capable of seeing and tracking dozens of targets from long-range ballistic missiles to fast, sea-skimming cruise missiles. Other state-of-the-art features of the Zumwalt include: an integrated sonar system with advanced towed array and high-frequency active sonar, an electric drive that not only turns the ship’s propellers but produces ten times the electric power as is available on current destroyer classes, a total ship computing environment infrastructure that improves overall ship performance and reduces the crew requirement, the advanced gun system with large magazines and the Mk 57 Peripheral Vertical Launching System (PVLS) that distributes a total of 80 missile cells in 20 reinforced launchers along the edges of the ship for safety and has the space to hold future, larger missiles.
If the Navy were to design a surface combatant for the recently announced pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, it would be the DDG 1000. This is the quintessential “full spectrum of missions” region. Zumwalt’s reduced signatures, powerful sensors and multi-role weapons systems are exactly what a force planner will want for a region that is witnessing an explosive proliferation of modern weapons, including advanced ballistic and cruise missiles, conventional and nuclear attack submarines, fourth and fifth generation aircraft and new generation sensors. The advanced gun system and PVLS will provide a range of options for responsive, precision attack. The large hangar and aviation deck will permit deployment of both helicopters and unmanned rotary wing vehicles such as the Fire Scout to support both combat and humanitarian assistance missions.
The current plan is to build only three DDG 1000s and complement their capability with production of advanced variants of the venerable Arleigh Burke DDG 51. Given the challenges of the new strategy and despite projected defense budgets reductions, the Obama Administration would be well-advised to consider increasing production of both ship classes.