An artist's rendering of the next-generation Navy warship, the DDG 1002 Zumwalk Class Warship, which is being designed and built by General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works. The ship is expected to be on line in fiscal 2018.
Would disagree with your assertion regarding 'over-reliance' on technology. As part of the original design team, I have my opinion and you will have yours. Also, your assertion that the systems are essentially single-point-of-failure systems is false. There is more redundancy in these systems of systems than you are aware. You also apparently underrate the skill level of the sailors in attendance.
Regarding tumblehome; do you think we just sat down one day and said 'Gee, this looks cool, let's build one"? This surface combatant has been studied and modeled in more ways than you can imagine and many more that simply aren't known outside the industry. Some of the finest naval designers in the business(our own Navy Laboratories) as well as professional 'naysayers' to test the model/concept were employed. She has been simulated, scale-modeled, poked and prodded. Rest assured this design is no guess.
To answer someone else's question: the railgun and ship-borne laser capabilities were indeed studied and currently are not part of the design. The point the article was trying to make was that both of these weapon systems require immense amounts of power. Zumwalt has the ability to generate these power levels. The radar systems alone consume enough energy to light up a small city.
It is just sad that after all our efforts, we will only build a couple ships. Certainly they are costly but, they do things other ships can't do. Very much like the B-2 but, that is another story for another day.
Considering how aviation technology has dramatically updated the look and performance of fighter jets over the past few decades, it seems that this radical departure from a conventional battleship paradigm might even be overdue.The look and description of some of the performance enhancements sound very interesting, and I'm looking forward to reading more about the project . Looks like already 2 weeks late on this one -- More, please!
Comparing commercial ships to naval vessels really is a case of comparing apples and oranges. Your point about up-tempo operations and daily availability is well taken. Certainly, the people of Washington got their money's worth out of those ferries. Modern cruiseships are a similar case. Time at the dock is time spent NOT making money for the operator.
Naval ships, as you pointed out, spend MUCH of their life at the dock. However, time at the dock doesn't necessarily mean that ALL of the systems on the ship go unused as the ship still houses a crew. Even if depleted due to leaves, and some sailors opting to live ashore when in port, the 'hotel' systems still must be on-line. These systems don't ever get a rest.
There's another aspect to naval vessel lifespan that hasn't been addressed: technical obsolescence. While a USN ship likely has a 50 or 60 year design life, advancing technology may shorten it's useful life to the Navy by decades. A recent example of this is the MHC-51 (USS Osprey) class. Commissioned in 1991 through 1999, all 12 Ospery-class ships were decommissioned in 2006-2007, representing service lives of only 8-13 years. Economics, technological obsolescence (and yes, politics, as the Osprey's mission was given to the new LCS ships) are the principal reasons that these ships now serve with the Greek, Egyptian, Lithuanian, Turkish, Taiwanese and Indian navies.
"Stealth" is ALWAYS a relative term. There's no such thing as 'undetectable', only undetectable under *what* conditions. The tumblehome hull is designed to deflect surface radar upward rather than back to it's source, but the ship is far from undetectable.
Similarly, the noise specifications (I have equipment aboard the Zumwalts) are quite stringent having been lifted in part from the Seawolf (the submarine) program. This makes the ship less easily detected by coastal patrol submarines (remember, Zumwalt's mission has a large fire-support component).
I fully agree that the tumblehome design presents a significant rollover risk, even at the 600' length of Zumwalt. But what's really shocking about this ship is it's overreliance on automation. Zumwalt was designed to reduce operational costs by reducing crew size (the biggest cost driver for ship operation). Now assuming that the shipbuilder and it's vendors can sort out the myriad technology conflicts and deliver an operational ship on time (I have deep reservations about this) the fact remains that in combat, should one piece of the automation system fail there's a significant risk that the remainder of this house of cards will fall. And that the tiny crew will be neither technically savvy enough, nor numerous enough, to save their vessel. For comparison, I give you the 505' Arleigh Burke destroyers, a much less automated ship, with a crew of approximately 280. Zumwalt, a larger ship, will sail with only HALF that number.
Unfortunately, unlike aircraft which are only required to be stealthy in air, a ship is required to operate in two environments - air and water - and be stealthy in both simultaneously. We have proven that it's possible to be almost invisible to radar, but anyone out there who has read 'Blind Man's Bluff' knows that the Russians never could figure out how to build submarines quiet enough that we couldn't find them. It continues to be very difficult to truly be the Silent Service.
@TJ: Maintenance throughout the lengthy lifecycle of these ships is a huge issue during development in terms of specialized capabilities to ease the support problem. I'm assuming this ship has many such features, many purely software-based, to optimize its care and feeding over the course of its tenure.
Beth, in 2007 the Washington State Ferry System retired the four ships of the Steel Electric class; they were built in 1927. While the ferries did not go in harm's way, 80 years is still a HECK of a long time. They had overhauls through the years, but not many.
One might argue that they saw harder service than a Navy destroyer; Navy vessels don't operate every single day with little down time. 6 months at sea, 6 months for maintenance is more common, I think.
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