The Navy’s futuristic destroyer Zumwalt traveled down the Kennebec River in Maine on Monday, maneuvering toward the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a path that many vessels have taken after being built at the Bath Iron Works shipyard, but it also signals the start of something significant: sea trials that will begin to reveal the unusually designed ship’s abilities afloat.
The long anticipated 610-foot-long, 15,480-ton destroyer has an unconventional pyramid-shaped hull that slopes out at the bottom with a stealthy ‘‘tumblehome’’ design, rather than sloping in like most warships. That should make it harder to find on radar, but also has long raised questions about how stable it will be when facing tough seas.
The vessel cost more than $4 billion to design and build, and is the first in a $12.3 billion, three-ship class named after Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, who served as chief of naval operations during the latter years of the Vietnam War. It also includes a new all-electric power design in which the ship’s gas-turbine engines power generators, rather than propellers, providing it with electrical energy that could be used to power high-tech weapons never before seen at sea. The propellers are powered from the electricity through electromagnets, conserving energy for other tasks.
The Zumwalt class was originally supposed to include 32 ships. As its cost grew, some senior Navy officials tried to kill the program. Instead, it was shrunk to three ships.