The USS Zumwalt, the Warship That Looks Like a Fishing Boat on Radar, Heads to Sea

There's a lot riding on this $4.4 billion warship passing the stress tests.

U.S. Navy

The USS Zumwalt, largest destroyer ever built for the U.S. Navy, is undergoing its first ocean trials after leaving shipbuilder Bath Iron Works in Maine Monday.

The colossal ship boasts electric propulsion, new radar and sonar systems, and a stealthy design to minimize its radar signature, but its old-school “tumblehome” hull shape has drawn some criticism.

Most recently popular on pre-dreadnought battleships, the inverse bow curves inward above the waterline. In certain conditions, critics like Matthew Werner, dean at the Webb Institute, say the design could cause instability that would be easily worsened by any battle damage — the tradeoff is that it contributes to the ship’s overall stealth.

According to the Navy’s claims, the 600-foot-long, 15,000-ton Zumwalt will look like a tiny fishing boat on radar. Much of the ship is built on angles that help make it 50 times harder to spot on radar than an ordinary destroyer. “It has the radar cross-section of a fishing boat,” Chris Johnson, a spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command, told CNN.

This, a fishing boat:

The USS Zumwalt as seen from the shore.

US Navy

Captain James Kirk (yes, that’s really his name) is at least confident in the design.

“We are absolutely fired up to see Zumwalt get underway. For the crew and all those involved in designing, building and readying this fantastic ship, this is a huge milestone,” Kirk told Navy Times shortly before the ship departed.

The launch is the culmination of nearly seven years of planning by General Dynamics, which was awarded $1.4 billion on Valentine’s Day, 2008 to construct the ship. But construction delays and design problems eventually inflated the total price tag to a painful $4.4 billion. Two more ships in the same class will be built — if the Zumwalt performs.

Besides the huge costs, the Navy reportedly sees the ship as a lynchpin of President Barack Obama’s Asia-Pacific strategy, leaving little room for a failure.

The Zumwalt's hull design should make it appear tiny on enemy radar, though critics worry it will affect stability.

Wikimedia Commons

Even though it’s 50 percent larger than all other modern destroyers, it has enough advanced automation to allow it to be operated with a smaller crew.

If the Zumwalt passes the ocean testing it can join the fleet as an active warship. Godspeed, gargantuan destroyer.

US Navy