The US Navy on Saturday christened the first of its newest class of destroyers – the more than $3 billion (£1.8 billion), 610-foot (186-metre)-long USS Zumwalt.
Named after the late Admiral Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt, the warship sports advanced technology and a stealthy shape designed to minimise its visibility on enemy radar and reduce the size of its crew.
Among the 15,000-tonne destroyer's cutting-edge features are a composite deckhouse with hidden radar and sensors and an angular shape that officials say will allow it to be confused for a small fishing boat on radars. It also has a wave-piercing hull designed to reduce the ship's wake.
It's the first US ship to use electric propulsion and produces enough power to one day support the futuristic electromagnetic rail gun, which will be tested at sea in 2016.
Rail guns fire a projectile at six or seven times the speed of sound – enough velocity to cause severe damage. The Navy sees them as replacing or supplementing old-school guns.
In the future, it could also be fitted with even more advanced weaponry. This summer, the US Navy plans to test the viability of a laser weapon device in the Persian Gulf. It will be used to shoot down aerial drones at ultra-low cost – it is thought one shot of laser will cost about $1.
It is also hoped the Zumwalt will, like its reformer namesake who spearheaded changes that helped shape the Navy by offering new opportunities to women and minorities, shepherd the fleet into a new era, officials said.
“This ship is a modern marvel, and it's going to take smart and creative and hardworking sailors like Bud Zumwalt to operate it,” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus told the crowd of thousands at Bath Iron Works, where the ship has been under construction since 2009.
Mouzetta Zumwalt-Weathers and Ann Zumwalt, the former admiral's daughters, each christened the ship by smashing a bottle of champagne near its bow, followed by cheers and bursts of red, white and blue streamers. They were joined at the ceremony by Zumwalt's son, retired Marine Lt. Col. Jim Zumwalt, who recalled 55 years ago, as a young boy, attending the christening of the USS Dewey, which his father commanded.
Bud Zumwalt, who became the youngest chief of naval operations in 1970, promoted the first female and African-American officers to admirals and opened the door for women to become naval aviators and serve on warships.
“He strove for a Navy that was supportive, encouraging and compassionate toward all sailors, especially minorities and women,” his daughter Ann said.
“A Navy that not only fought wars but also fought discrimination in its ranks. He dreamt of a Navy that allowed its sailors a better quality of life.”
Inside, sailors will have more space to work and live because the Zumwalt will only require about half the crew of the current generation of destroyers. Meanwhile, fewer sailors will need to stand watch because of cameras and video monitors that show what's going on outside.
That will allow the Navy to “carry out its crucial mission at a time of budget constraints,” said US Senator Susan Collins of Maine.
The Zumwalt was originally supposed to be christened in October, but the ceremony was rescheduled because of the federal government shutdown. The ship is expected to be delivered to the Navy late this year and to enter service in 2016. It will be joined by two other destroyers in its class, which are also being built in Bath.
Additional reporting by Associated Press
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