It is quite safe to say that the United States Navy’s Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer hasn’t exactly had smooth sailing since it was commissioned in October 2016.
The entire program has faced multiple delays and cost overruns, even as the Navy called for the delivery of the first warship a ‘major milestone.’ The Navy had originally planned to buy more than two dozen of the larger stealth destroyers—which are now larger than any active destroyer or even cruiser in service—yet that number was reduced to just three as the costs ballooned and then questions came up over what its role would actually be.
The warship was able to successfully execute its first live-fire test of the Mk 57 Vertical Launching System with a Standard Missile (SM-2) last fall, but only this month did the Navy announce that it had also put USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) through extreme weather testing by sailing it into rough waves in two storms off the California and Alaska coasts, respectively. The Navy announced that the destroyer passed the sea trials that put its unique design to the ultimate test by having the ship sail straight into a storm with waves as high as twenty feet.
During the “Rough-Water Trials,” the ship held up in Sea State 6 conditions—considered “very rough” on the World Meteorological Organization Sea State scale that runs from 0 to 9. As Business Insider reported, such conditions are considered atypical yet are punishing for the ship and its crew. Sailors are unlikely to face such conditions more than a few times in their careers.
Last fall’s tests in rough waters followed the first phase of the trials that were conducted in 2019, when Zumwalt sailed through Sea States 3, 4 and 5—considered mild to rough conditions where waves ranged in heights from just under two feet to thirteen feet.
Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) announced that the trial evaluated the “seakeeping” and structural response of the destroyer and was conducted under the Performance and Special Trials (P&ST) program, which is a collection of tests to develop class-baseline hydrodynamic, structural and machinery performance information.
“We chose locations and times to conduct the testing that would correspond with what forecast models were indicating would provide the wave conditions required to complete our test matrix,” said Rough-Water Trials Director Stephen Minnich via a statement.
“We deployed wave buoys that drifted on the sea surface, which helped us to quantify the seaway in terms of the wave height, period, and direction,” Minnich added. “We were completely at the mercy of Mother Nature during the testing, but those devices were critically important to the characterization of what we were seeing in terms of ship motion and structural response and for the situational awareness they provided to support safe execution of the testing.”
The trail was conducted across two storm events, the first near San Francisco, which peaked at a mid-Sea State 6; while the second, off of Ketchikan, Alaska, produced conditions through the top of Sea State 6.
The next trial for the Zumwalt-class won’t involve the actual DDG 1000. Instead, the next phase will involve replicating the second phase of the Rough-Water Trials in model scale test facilities at the Naval Sea Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division in Maryland. Those tests will include reproducing the wave environments and ship loading conditions for a Seakeeping Correlation test. The model test will take place in Carderock’s Maneuvering and Seakeeping Basin beginning later this month.
“Effectively, we will be re-running critical portions of the trial at model scale onsite at Carderock,” Minnich added. “This will enable us to quantify the differences between our model-scale predictions and our full-scale observations.”
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.
Image: USNI/Bath Iron Works.