The US Navy’s experimental new destroyer known as the Zumwalt class has experienced the unexpected dilemma of being too stealthy. As the first of the new class of vessels underwent sea-trials off the coast of Maine, local fishermen were bewildered after the vessel that appeared to be 40-50 feet long (12-15 metres) on radar was in fact a 610 foot (186 metre) destroyer. The vessel will now have to hoist giant reflectors to nullify its stealth design as it continues the testing of its advanced capabilities.
The $4.3 billion dollar vessel will be the first of a new generation designed to tip the scales firmly back into the US Navy’s hand across the globe. The Zumwalt will be the largest ever destroyer constructed by the US Navy in its class, and is due to enter service officially in 2018. Despite exceeding expectations, the program was severely cut back from an initial order of 32 ships to just 3 in what has become a proof on concept for future naval vessels.
Fiction made Science
What excited the US Navy so much is that in its current form, the ships aren’t even at their most stealthiest. It is expected that after they complete their sea trials and testing equipment is removed, the ships will be even harder to detect.
The US Navy has invested more than $22 billion in the Zumwalt program. Unlike anything else before it, the vessels will truly represent the next generation of warships thanks to their integration of weapons that were once science fiction such as Lasers and Railguns. Their construction techniques are so advanced that there are no vessels that even come close in terms of capabilities anywhere else in the globe.
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The Zumwalt Destroyers are completely different to their predecessor Arleigh Burke class. Along the sleek hull are no exposed gun turrets or signal towers. What was old has also been updated – the ship will utilize a ‘tumblehome’ hull and radar scattering panels that give it a minimal signature much like the next generation of stealth fighters such as the F-35.
In terms of weaponry, the Navy’s experimental “rail guns” will be able to hit a target 100 miles (161 kilometres) and still penetrate the equivalent of three concrete walls thickness.
The ships development has alarmed America’s adversaries around the globe as it may potentially give the US Navy an edge once more. The Zumwalt class would provide a huge advantage in terms of being able to stealthily insert troops into enemy territory or ambush its much slower, larger and ageing rivals.
It isn’t all champagne though. The ambitious design and integration of entirely new systems have led to costly delays. Advanced automation may allow the vessel to host a smaller crew however the Navy has has trouble getting the system to work just right. Despite an original plan for 32 of the new warships, the program has been cut to just three that will meet eventual commissioning.
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