This Navy Destroyer Runs on Electricity and Shoots Lasers
It took quite a gas tank to fuel an Iowa-class battleship, which was once the crown jewel in the Navy’s fleet. At 2.4 million gallons of diesel per fill up, a ship like U.S.S. Missouri could run for only30 days of steady sailing.
And, as any submarine captain could tell you, its diesel-powered gas turbines were so noisy that “finding” one of them was pretty simple.
But just as technology has produced bombers that can hit targets without being detected, the Navy has come a long way since then. Today’s Navy, is being built to travel more stealthily and use less fuel.
The difference is these ships can be armed with futuristic lasers…
The Navy’s New Plan to “Reach Out and Touch Someone”
The newest Navy ships, such as the USS Zumwalt are really giant electric generators. The Zumwalt, a 600-foot destroyer, has four diesel generators that make enough electricity to power 47,000 typical American homes, which is more than enough to propel the $3 billion, 15,000-ton ship.
That electricity powers electric motors that can propel the ship to speeds of 12 knots before using its conventional gas turbine engines.
Like a Prius, this hybrid system saves fuel. The Zumwalt is in its testing phase, but a simpler, earlier version of the hybrid technology reduced fuel consumption by 16%.
Unlike the Prius, that same electricity powers the weapons of the future.
In fact, there’s enough electricity left over to power two futuristic weapons: directed-energy weapons, which is what the Navy calls lasers, and a high-tech electromagnetic railgun.
The solid-state Laser Weapons System would allow the navy to effectively neutralize threats such as aerial drones and swarm boats by shooting them with a beam of intense heat and destroying their internal parts, at a fraction of the cost of conventional weapons.
The railgun, which the Navy terms a “hyper velocity weapon,” can fire a projective at 7.5x the speed of sound as far as 125 miles, using electricity rather than explosives. The impact of a large shell striking a target at that velocity (over 5,700 mph) is devastating.
By using multiple generators in different spots on the ship, the USS Zumwalt is much less vulnerable to enemy attack. In older ships, a strike at a centralized engine will disable the vessel; with the Zumwalt, the ship can continue even if one or two generators are knocked out.
And when it comes to stealth, the USS Zumwalt is unparalleled. Thanks to its quiet engines, hull design and other technology, the ship only appears as a small fishing vessel on enemy radar.
Inspired by Star Trek
Like the USS Enterprise on the original Star Trek, which could divert energy from its propulsion systems to fire weapons, the USS Zumwalt can distribute power for propulsion, weapons, or other operations as needed.
But the Star Trek similarities don’t end there.
In a “life imitates art” twist, the captain of the new Navy destroyer is… Bethesda native James A. Kirk.
Though no relation to the fictional Captain James T. Kirk of Star Trek fame, the actor who played Kirk, William Shatner, sent his namesake a congratulatory note when the ship was launched.
The coincidences didn’t escape the Navy brass.
The new ship, noted Vice Admiral Philip Cullom, deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics, as well as director of the naval Task Force on Energy, “is a little bit like science fiction.”
Energy efficiency, he said, is the key to future warfare. “If you don’t conserve it, then it becomes a weakness for you. Our fuel convoy is like an oil rig, and adversaries exploit it. It steams next to the ship every x number of days (for refueling). If we can increase the range of our ships (and refuel less often), we have a profoundly more capable Navy.”
“Our adversaries have found certain soft underbellies to our operations. They know that when you go after the logistics and resupply of fuel, that’s an easier target than confronting our frontline forces.”
Investing in the Navy’s Future
If the new technologies being used by the Navy prove to be effective, the main contractors involved in the USS Zumwalt stand to profit.
General Dynamics Corp. (NYSE:GD) built the vessel at its Bath Iron Works in Maine. The aerospace and defense company has seen its stock climb by 28.3% since the beginning of the year.
Northrop Grumman Corp. (NYSE:NOC) built the seven-level deckhouse out of a new composite material that’s lighter and stronger than conventional materials, and is expected to supply deckhouses for two more Zumwalt-class ships. It’s stock is up 10.9% since the beginning of the year.
Raytheon Co. (NYSE:RTN) supplied many of the sophisticated radar and sonar systems, and has seen its stock jump by 8.2% since January 2.
BAE Systems PLC (OTCMKTS:BAESY), the largest foreign-owned U.S. defense contractor, supplied some of the cutting edge weapons systems. It’s stock has inched up 0.6% this year.
Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE:LMT) also provided some of the vessel’s radar systems (it uses several for navigation and weapons management). Its stock has zoomed 19.3% this year.
Boeing Co. (NYSE:BA) provided the marine turbines, which are similar to those used on a Boeing 777 jumbo jet. Boeing’s stock has dropped 8.8% in 2014, primarily due to lower 777 production rates and higher deferred 787 (Dreamliner) costs than analysts expected.
The USS Zumwalt is the test bed for new technologies that will almost certainly be widely used by the Department of Defense. Even today, Captain James A. Kirk’s destroyer is starting to approach the futuristic capabilities of the fictional Captain James T. Kirk’s USS Enterprise.