An artist's rendering of a Navy Zumwalt-class destroyer, DDG 1000. (Northrop Grumman)
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Nearly every discussion of the new DDG 1000 Zumwalt-class destroyers revolves around the Navy's decision last summer to "truncate" the planned buy from seven ships to three.
Or around cost projections that foresee figures wildly in excess of the stated $3.3 billion goal.
Or around whether the land-attack capability of the ships is still needed in the new national strategy now taking shape under the Quadrennial Defense Review.
Often overlooked in all the chatter is that, methodically, steadily and even quietly major components of the first ship are taking shape all across the country. When ready, the parts will be shipped largely by barge and rail to the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard at Bath, Maine, where, since February, shipbuilders are welding together the steel that make up the ship's 600-foot-long hull.
The ship will be packed with new technology, from its weaponry to the engines to the radars and more. Capt. James Syring, DDG 1000 program manager, recently ticked off progress on 13 major engineering development models, all but three of which have begun production.
Done with development are BAE's 155mm Advanced Gun System and its bullet, Lockheed Martin's Long Range Land Attack Projectile. The gun is being built in Louisville, Ky., and its carriage in Minneapolis. Last month, the LRLAP was fired at a White Sands, N.M., test range to its threshold range of 63 miles, and further "tweaking" of the rocket motor's chemistry should push the shell 10 miles farther, Syring said.
The Advanced Vertical Launch System is in production at Raytheon, and seven of eight Peripheral VLS modules are being welded together at Bath. Development of the composite deckhouse has ended, and Northrop Grumman is building the ship's superstructure at Gulfport, Miss.
"We're well into production at Gulfport," Syring said, pointing to a picture of the completed 150-foot O-4 deck. "They had a .01 percent defect rate on this panel the largest contiguous composite panel in the ship."
The infrared suppression engine exhaust and heat suppression system completed development after four major at-sea tests. The components of the Integrated Power System are in production, including Alstom's Advanced Induction Motor and Rolls-Royce's MT-30 gas turbine generators. The ship's automatic fire suppression system also is in production, as are portions of the SQQ-90 integrated undersea warfare system.
Development of the unique tumblehome hull form is finished, Syring said, although testing to establish safe operating procedures will continue even after the ship enters service in 2015. "It won't complete until we take the ship through a heavy weather trial and get correlation between all the testing that's been done," he explained.
Radar systems progressing
Development work continues, Syring said, on the SPY-3 Multi-Function Radar, the SPY-4 Volume Search Radar and the Total Ship Computing Environment.
Both radars which together form the Dual Band Radar led by prime contractor Raytheon have been installed together since January at the Wallops Island Engineering Center on the Virginia coast. Early on, the radars were tracking aircraft targets of opportunity, Syring said. Aircraft test runs began this summer and will continue into the fall, he added.
The SPY-3, an X-band radar, completed at-sea testing in the spring of 2008 off the California coast aboard the test ship Paul F. Foster, a former Spruance-class destroyer. The first two SPY-3 arrays are being assembled, Syring said, and Raytheon began testing of the first array in June at Andover, Mass.
"Minor production issues" on the MFR have been worked through, Syring said. "We've had no operational issues."
Below-deck components of the SPY-4, an S-band radar developed by Lockheed, are in full-rate production, and six arrays for the Zumwalt and also for the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford are under contract.
"I'm not aware of any VSR issues," Syring said. "It's S-band, it's well understood, and Lockheed does a good job with S-band."
Work on the ship's computing environment also continues.
"Software development continues to go well. We're much greater than 50 percent done at this point," Syring said. "We're pretty modular in terms of the electronics of the combat system and the network," he added.
Design work is also approaching completion. "Of the three-dimensional models, 90 of 94 are completely released for structure and outfitting drawing extraction. Locked down. The remaining four will be done by September. So we're out of the model business," he declared.
Design maturity is a major factor in the Navy's long-standing insistence that the DDG 1000 program will be held to budget. And Syring seemed confident that his program is performing as it should.
"I track every week variances to that amount" under contract, he said. "And we are right where we need to be. Is it perfect, 100 percent? No. Is it within single-digit percentages of where we need to be? Yes."
Syring also took pains to specifically address the radar.
"Are you experiencing massive cost growth on radar? No. In production. MFR, we know what that costs … it's right where it needs to be. And when I say it needs to be, I mean 1.0 in terms of what we put under contract and what they're performing to."
Responding to unofficial comments that the DDG 1000 program is experiencing significant cost growth, Syring bristled.
"I do not have cost growth on contracts right now," he said. "If I had major variances and we were overrunning by tens of millions of dollars one, it would be visible to people who watch this, and two, I probably wouldn't have time to sit here and talk with you right now.
"Do we have challenges within our lifeline? Every day. But that's the job of the program manager."
The people side
It will still be several years before the Zumwalt will be manned by sailors, but Pentagon analysts reported earlier this year concerns about the need for most personnel to be qualified when they report aboard because of the small crew, as well as the high number of clearances crew members will need.
"The way we've structured the design of the Ship Mission Center is that it's severable and operable at any security level the commanding officer or commodore want that ship to operate at," program manager Capt. James Syring said. "We can operate it at a secret level, we can operate parts of the SMC at a secret level and other parts at the top secret or [Sensitive Compartmented Information] level. We can operate it all at the top secret level. We can operate it all at the unclassified level."
Crew training already is part of the DDG 1000 plan, Syring said.
"We worked with the training community [to determine] exactly what the training pipeline for sailors is going to be. We can tell you down to the first billet what the first officer and first enlisted billet code is going to be and what the training pipeline is going to be to get them to the ship. I think we're out in front of that."
Sailors still have time to work on their qualifications to be among the first to serve on the ship.
"We start to man up in earnest in 2011, early 2012 start phasing people to the shipyard," Syring said. And the prospective commanding officer who will be a commander "will be chosen probably in a couple of years from now."