Largest naval destroyer ever built sails into Esquimalt
The largest and deadliest destroyer ever built for the U.S. Navy sailed into Esquimalt on its first operational voyage at sea Monday.
The USS Zumwalt, a stealthy guided-missile destroyer with the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet out of San Diego, is a next-generation destroyer that will spearhead the U.S. military’s pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region.
The ship’s striking, streamlined design is intended to subvert radar detection, giving the 610-foot vessel the radar cross-section of a small fishing boat.
“This aids her role as a multi-mission surface combatant and improves the fleet commander’s options for delivery of naval combat power to meet the Navy’s emergent mission requirements,” said the Zumwalt’s commanding officer, Capt. Andrew Carlson, on Monday.
The 16,000-tonne Zumwalt left San Diego on its way up the coast March 8. The exact length of its stay on Canada’s West Coast will not be made public, but it is expected to leave Esquimalt before the end of the week.
The ship has the capacity to carry and launch three tactical unmanned aerial vehicles — drones — and two Sikorsky Seahawk helicopters, however the Zumwalt is still waiting for approval of its helicopter certification.
The Zumwalt was designed to sail with a 147-member crew, plus 28 others in its aviation detachment, according to the U.S. Navy. Older U.S. Navy destroyers are staffed by crews at least twice that size.
Questions about ship’s primary gun system remain
Part of the reason for the comparably sparse crew is the Zumwalt’s technologically advanced ship systems.
That technology is evident on the ship’s bridge, where four computer touchscreens form the locus of the Zumwalt’s steering, speed and navigational controls, while eight overhead flatscreen monitors offer a 360-degree view around the vessel.
The Zumwalt’s weapons capacity consists of up to 80 Tomahawk and Sea Sparrow missiles, two close-range MK46 cannons and a complement of defensive torpedoes.
The ship was also designed to feature two 155mm advanced gun systems with 600 rounds of long-range land-attack guided munitions. However, as the cost of the munition ballooned to upwards of $1 million per round, the gun system is now in limbo.
Carlson told CTV News that the Zumwalt will retain the two existing 155mm forward guns for the time being, but the nature of their ammunition remains an open question.
“I can say that the guns are still onboard right now. The Navy is still deliberating some cost trade-offs, looking at whether or not the gun systems are something to continue or will be replaced by another system,” Carlson said.
“Same for the ammunition. That’s part of the development of looking into whether or not there’s a cost-effective ammunition replacement compared to the original design.”
Rumours have swirled in defence circles that the Zumwalt and the two other vessels in its class could eventually be outfitted with high-tech weapons such as offensive lasers or railguns in place of the long-range guns.
It would be an ideal platform to deploy these energy-intensive future weapons given that the ship can generate a staggering 78 megawatts of electricity, far more power than the ship requires without them.
“We are trying to figure out where this platform can fit into the overall puzzle that is the United States Navy,” said Lieut. Rochelle Rieger, a public information officer with the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet.
New Zealand warship at Rocky Point
The Zumwalt isn’t the only foreign warship in the waters off the South Island.
The HMNZS Te Mana, a New Zealand Navy frigate, is currently docked at Rocky Point, site of the Canadian military’s West Coast ammunition depot. Typically, warships dock at the remote peninsula if they are carrying live munitions.
The Te Mana is currently offloading its munitions at the depot before sailing into Esquimalt Harbour where it will receive significant refits and upgrades, a contract that was awarded to Canada following the success of the Canadian Navy’s Frigate Equipment Life Extenion (FELEX) program.