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USS Zumwalt

No Beauty In Modern Ships

By James Donahue

If you liked the graceful appearance of the tall ships of yesteryear, or the majestic look of the great battleships and ocean liners of the past century, prepare for a shock. Modern ships are being launched with an eye on profit and power.

We have all seen the new cruise ships with cabins stacked six to eight levels above the main deck. They look like luxury hotels mounted on floating decks, and this is exactly what they are.

And we have seen the thousand-foot-long tankers and freight carriers with square truck trailers stacked like cordwood on their decks lined up in our ports. No beauty in these monsters.

Now the U. S. Navy is setting even new standards for ugliness. We offer the new 610-foot destroyer Zumwalt, only recently launched at the Bath Iron Works, that has an angular shape the looks like an upside-down hull. There are no guns to be seen, or battle equipment of any kind. Everything is carefully hidden under a steel covering that reminds us of the way the first iron-clads looked when they entered the Civil War.

Built at a cost of over $3 billion, the Zumwalt is no iron-clad, however. The Navy says it’s angular shape is designed to confuse enemy radar and reduce the ship’s wake when underway at sea, and all of its war gear is carefully hidden under what is described as a composite deckhouse.

Like the air force’s latest "stealth" aircraft, the Zumwalt also is designed with new stealth technology, making it able to sneak up on enemy ships and pack a powerful punch when engaged.

A lot of the things on the Zumwalt is no doubt classified, but one thing the Navy is telling us is that the new destroyer is equipped with electronic propulsion that produces enough power to someday support an electromagnetic rail gun, a weapon still in design stage that is expected to be tested at sea in 2016.

If it does what it is supposed to do, the rail gun is expected to fire a projectile at six to seven times the speed of sound, and cause severe damage to anything it strikes. The ship also may be fitted for laser weapons.

The Zumwalt is a big ship, but designed to be operated by fewer crew members. In fact, this ship will carry half the number of sailors that conventional destroyers carry. Cameras and video monitors will replace the sailors that once stood on decks to stand watch at sea.

Welcome to the new world of warships. Let us all pray that we will never have to use them and those guns will remain forever silent.