On Monday, the U.S. Navy launched its radically futuristic new stealth destroyer – the USS Zumwalt. The ship is captained by the aptly-named Capt. James Kirk, and the first Zumwalt-class destroyer in operation. The Navy expects to ultimately deploy up to three Zumwalt-class destroyers. While the Zumwalt is the U.S. Navy’s do-everything ship in many ways, it was designed with land attack in mind. Given that the Zumwalt's overt design attempts to overcome China's much-touted anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) strategy, the launch of the ship will be closely watched by the PLA Navy.
It’s considered to be a “next-generation” destroyer with a design that reduces its signature, and an incorporation of active and passive self-defense systems. It represents the culmination of over two decades of research and development. The Zumwalt in reality represents the very frontier of destroyers, and in actuality resembles a battleship in more ways than one. Most notably, its sheer size puts it at a few feet short of being classified as a battleship. The Zumwalt incorporates enough power to match its hefty size.
According to Navy Live, the U.S. Navy’s official blog, the Zumwalt incorporates an innovative power system:
"The ZUMWALT Class is the first combatant to introduce a Low Voltage Power System that features a highly survivable Integrated Fight Through Power (IFTP) system, which relies on new-to-the-Navy solid state Power Conversion Modules to achieve user-specific power demands. The IFTP architecture combines four electrically isolated zones (forward to aft) and two segregated longitudinal buses (port/starboard), with advanced Engineering Control System functionality that introduces single-operator control with unprecedented and reliable automated power management, fault isolation, and recovery features.”
The addition of the Zumwalt hones the U.S. Navy’s technical ability to make good on its Air-Sea Battle (ASB) strategy, including Joint Operational Access.
The ship’s next-generation offensive capabilities include expansion to incorporate rail gun and laser weapon technology. Experts credit the ship’s innovative power plant as enabling its offensive capabilities. Breaking Defense, in its coverage of the Zumwalt’s launch, brings attention to its additionally innovative approach to human systems integration. The Zumwalt also operates with a much smaller crew compared to other ships with its capabilities. Breaking Defense cites Scott Truver on the matter:
"When upwards of 70% of the total ownership cost (TOC) of an ship class is directly related to people, anything that can reduce manning — without diminishing warfighting-first and readiness capabilities, of course — will be major contributors to keeping TOCs in check. The DDG-1000 (Zumwalt) class is the first U.S. Navy warship to fully embrace the precepts of human systems integration in the design and engineering phase—when some 60 percent of a warships’ TOC (Total Operating Costs) are already locked in…. In short, lessons learned from Zumwalt have the potential to ripple throughout the service, generating a real revolution at sea!”
The development of the Zumwalt hasn’t been free of political controversy. In an era of tightening defense budgets and spending, the program came under fire from budget hawks in Congress who have found its return on investment value to be unsatisfactory.
But the ship also has its proponents on Capitol Hill. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA), chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee and chairman of the Congressional China Caucus, has heralded the Zumwalt as precisely the sort of hardware the U.S. Navy needs to incorporate to ensure its dominance.