The US Navy is to take delivery of the world’s first specially designed stealth destroyer this week, some three years later than originally planned.
Named after the late Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, the USS Zumwalt will be the largest and most technologically advanced destroyer in the American naval fleet.
Measuring 183m in length, 24m across and weighing a massive 15,000 tons, one might think the enemy would see it coming.
Despite its colossal measurements, ultra-modern stealth technology and its sharp angular shape give the ship a radar profile 50 times smaller than conventional vessels of its size, simulating the appearance of a small fishing boat to enemy scanning equipment.
It is the first of three new Zumwalt-class destroyers, powered by electricity produced by turbines similar to those in a Boeing 777 and designed to attack land targets from the sea with long-range guns that use projectiles capable of hitting targets almost 100 miles away.
Advanced automation will allow the big ship to operate with a much smaller crew than on the current generation of destroyers.
The multimission ship has cost the equivalent of about 4 billion euros and many believe it to be a model for the future of surface warships.
“The Zumwalt was designed to be transformational,” said Andrew Hunter, a defence expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“There has never been as much next-generation, leap-ahead technology on a single ship before.”
Sailors have been living on the ship since last week, and will sail the USS Zumwalt down the Atlantic coast from its shipyard in Maine to Baltimore, where it will be officially commissioned in October.
The destroyer will then move to San Diego, California, for additional weapons fittings.
Two specially designed 150mm guns from UK based BAE systems — the largest ever installed as standard destroyer weapons — already adorn its front deck, their barrels encased by faceted enclosures to reduce their radar signature.
The original concept for developing new warships was first floated 15 years ago under the Bush administration, during a push for ambitious leaps in military equipment designs.
The 32-ship program was marred by rising costs and reduced to just three ships.
Shipbuilders are working hard on the second ship in the class, the Michael Monsoor, which will be christened next month. Work also is under way on the third and final ship, the Lyndon B Johnson.
“Zumwalt was a challenge to assemble because of all the new technologies, but sea trials show it is a world-class warship with unique capabilities,” said Loren Thompson, senior defence analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute.