Is General Dynamics' Massive New Stealth Destroyer the Ship of the Future?

An artist rendering of the Zumwalt-class destroyer DDG 1000, a new class of multi-mission U.S. Navy surface combatant ship designed to operate as part of a joint maritime fleet, assisting Marine strike forces ashore as well as performing littoral, air, and sub-surface warfare. Photo: U.S. Navy. 

"Massive" doesn't exactly conjure images of stealth, but the DDG-1000 Zumwalt, the biggest U.S. Navy destroyer ever built, is stealthy. Further, it has advanced features such as a gun that fires rocket-propelled warheads as far as 100 miles, and an "unusual" wave-piercing hull.

Even more impressive? Bath Iron Works, a subsidiary of General Dynamics (NYSE: GD  ) , is on time, and on budget, when it comes to construction of the Zumwalt -- a major accomplishment in the defense-contracting world. Here's what else you need to know. 

Bath , Maine (Dec. 14, 2012): The 1,000-ton deckhouse of the future destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) is craned toward the deck of the ship to be integrated with the ship's hull at General Dynamics' Bath Iron Works. Photo: U.S. Navy.

The Zumwalt
With a price tag of $3.5 billion, the Zumwalt is one of America's most expensive warships; it's also one of the most advanced. It's 100 feet longer than the next largest destroyer, but it can be crewed with just 158 sailors -- nearly half of what it takes to crew current destroyers.

The Zumwalt also rides low in the water -- thanks, in part, to its antenna-laden superstructure, making it stealthier than other warships. Plus, it has a power plant that can produce 78 megawatts of electricity, meaning it could be used for futuristic weapons like the electromagnetic rail gun, which can fire projectiles at seven times the speed of sound. Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, said, "It's not so much a radical concept as it is an attempt to pull off a full range of missions with a ship that has one foot in the present and one foot in the future." 

More importantly, having the Zumwalt come in on time and on budget is something the Navy desperately needs, especially because both Lockheed Martin's (NYSE: LMT  ) "cheaper" Littoral Combat Ship, or LCS, and Huntington Ingalls Industries' (NYSE: HII  ) CVN-78 Gerald R. Ford, have had costly overruns, mechanical issues, and delays. Norman Polmar, a naval historian, analyst, and author, went so far as to say that LCS "is a total disaster."  

The future of the DDG-1000
Originally, the Navy had envisioned buying 20 new destroyers. However, because of the high price associated with the necessary sophisticated features, Navy officials reduced the number of ships to three. However, it's no secret that the Navy is in dire need of new ships, and Bath Iron Works just demonstrated that it's capable of building next-gen ships on time and on budget. While that doesn't guarantee the Navy will order more DDG-1000 destroyers, it does put it in a very good light.

More pointedly, according to a Congressional Research Service report from Oct. 22, the Navy has looked at procuring "a version of the DDG-1000 destroyer that is equipped with the AMDR [air and missile defense radar] and capable of BMD [ballistic missile defense] operations." Further, "A new estimate of the cost to develop and procure an AMDR-equipped, BMD-capable version of the DDG-1000 might differ from the estimate in the Navy's 2009 destroyer hull/radar study (the study that led to the Navy's decision to stop DDG-1000 procurement and resume DDG-51 procurement) due to the availability of updated cost information for building the current DDG-1000 design." 

The cost assessment is no doubt helped by the fact that the Zumwalt has been so successful at not going over budget, or incurring setbacks.

The ship of the future?
The Zumwalt is a marvel of engineering and precision, and the Navy needs that right now. Further, Bath Iron Works was able to construct the Zumwalt without going over budget, or incurring substantial delays. That can't be overstated when it comes to defense contracting. Consequently, Bath Iron Works looks to be in a great position to receive future orders -- and that's great news for defense investors.

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Read/Post Comments (12) | Recommend This Article (18)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 10:46 AM, kabon360 wrote:

    I saw this movie...it was so-so as James Bond movies go...

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 11:18 AM, cityperson wrote:

    I do not know if this stealth ship will be for the future of ships, but I do know drone and other robots types will be. Just saying and somehting to think about. I'm retired Navy and in my time I could see maned ships are heading into the past. With all the new technology maned ships are sitting ducks.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 1:47 PM, FreddieMi wrote:

    @cityperson

    Bear in mind that drones have significant drawbacks of their own. Engage and destroy and/or disable the command and control drone network and you have one very expensive toy just waiting for a new owner.

    Drones have their place on the 21st century battlefield, but they are not a panacea. Shoot down or jamb the satellite link and a whole fleet of drone ships or an entire wing of drone planes becomes useless.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 2:45 PM, Martinez wrote:

    All weaponry an its Bearers is either to scare those other ones or make them incapable and then lay down with their surviving females . What this Technology crap has is just waste of human resources on something what is turning against its Human bearers. Untouchable concept of cowards what adds to human mental disorder in self-deception fools. Current technological doctrine of adding on addend divorced mankind from the nature of their own things.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 3:10 PM, Rotomoley wrote:

    Looks like this ship would be easy to sink. Better buy more than 3. Looks very fragile.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 6:12 PM, alan0101 wrote:

    I don´t know if it is the ship of the future. More than likely it is unnecessary and just another way to rip off the US taxpayer.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 6:28 PM, humantripod wrote:

    cityperson, "maned" is spelled "manned" Didn't they teach you to spell in the NAVY ?

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 6:30 PM, humantripod wrote:

    alan0101, very true. I feel the same way about the repeating rifle, what a waste. The black powder ball rifle was working just fine.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 6:40 PM, Gunny wrote:

    I believe this article neglected to mention the deckhouse was built at Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding in Gulfport, Mississippi. The design was also SHARED by Huntington Ingalls and BIW.

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 6:55 PM, TMFKSpence wrote:

    humantripod,

    Your comment made me laugh! Black powder ball rife... That's pretty good. :)

    Fool on!

    Katie Spence

  • Report this Comment On October 26, 2013, at 11:34 PM, samis2 wrote:

    They got to be kidding, it look like the Civil War Sub. Merrimac

  • Report this Comment On October 27, 2013, at 11:13 PM, ACBoon wrote:

    It is misleading to suggest that the program is a development success by being on cost and on schedule. The program has gone through significant modifications over time as documented in several sources. Suggesting that the program is an example of success compared to other shipbuilding programs ignores the history which seriously jeopardized the program.

    You can re-baseline a program to put metrics back to good, but that doesn't mean the cost and schedule issues before re-baseline never happened.

    That said, it is an engineering triumph of a ship. Truly amazing work.

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