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WASHINGTON — If everything goes right, if the hardware and software all seem good and the weather cooperates, the revolutionary destroyer Zumwalt (DDG 1000) could taste the sea for the first time in less than a month. It’ll be a moment many years in the making.

“We’re at the stage of construction where there is very little production going on. The ship is built,” Sean Stackley, the Navy’s top official for research, acquisition and development, said Nov. 5.

Featuring a tumblehome hull optimized for stealth, a new propulsion and power distribution system, an ambitious software environment that ties together nearly every system on the ship, and a reduced crew, the Zumwalt has been under construction since 2008 in the tiny town of Bath, Maine, at the Bath Iron Works (BIW) shipyard of General Dynamics. Development and design started much earlier than that.

”Everything is new,” Stackley said in an interview with Defense News. “From the propulsion plant, the power distribution – the whole integrated power system – the extraordinarily unique features of the hull form that provide the degree of stealth and survivability, the radar system, the degree of automation that’s incorporated into the ship to enable the reduced-size crew – it’s all new.

“We’re at that stage,” he added, where “all of that is coming together in the test program.”

The ship carried out extensive tests at the shipyard in mid-October – a 96-hour, four-day “fast cruise.”

“We did everything from rolling the shafts, bringing up and down systems, testing failure modes, testing watch station effectiveness,” Stackley said. “You’re limited in terms of radiation – radiating things while next to the pier. But we did everything that we could next to the pier prior to getting underway.”

That included running the propeller shafts – with the propellers removed.

“We were able to test the props to a much higher degree pierside than we did on the [Arleigh Burke-class] DDG 51 destroyers,” Stackley said. “We leveraged some lessons-learned from the Brits in terms of their power system.

“They attached water wheels – took the props off, put water wheels on so you’re not creating the thrust,” but with enough resistance to bring the electric load up “pierside far beyond what you’d be able to do on a pitched propeller.”

A new software “load” was delivered to the ship control systems last week.

“I expect that will be the load we’ll take to sea,” Stackley said. “And right now we are continuing down the checklist in terms of completing the test program. We’ll do a check in terms of readiness for sea, and when we’re green we’ll follow suit and get underway. And it’ll be a healthy underway period. We plan on a 7-day underway period for the first builder’s sea trials to shake it down as extensively as possible. In December, if we’re ready.”

How the ship does in the initial sea trials, Stackley said, will determine the ship’s delivery date in the spring.

“We’ve got a builder’s sea trial with a notional start of the 7th of December,” he said. “That is the critical milestone in terms of being able to deliver in the spring. We need a successful trial. We’ll learn things from the trial, we always do. First-of-class, we expect to learn a lot.

“We’ll come back off the trial, we’ll generate trial cards that identify deficiencies – it could be in terms of hardware, it could be in terms of software. But we take the full sea trial and schedule of test events, grade ourselves, bring the ship back, we correct the deficiencies, and then we get underway.”

With so much new technology involved, the ship will carry out a second set of builder’s sea trials before the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey comes aboard for acceptance trials. The scheduling of the second set of trials, Stackley said, “will be dependent on the issues we identify on the first builder’s trials.

“We have to hurdle the holidays, deal with weather-related impacts before getting back underway. Then after that second trial, having worked off issues from the first trial, that will give us the green light to go to acceptance trials.

“It becomes a trial-driven schedule, from the point in time we get underway for the first sea trials.”

During the week-long initial sea trials, the Zumwalt will be coming back to nearby Portland, Maine, several times to let off engineers who’s role in the tests is complete and take on others. Portland is easier for a ship to get in and out of quickly, but at the conclusion of the trials, the ship will head back up the narrow Kennebec River to return to the Bath shipyard.

Stackley noted that, as planned, the Zumwalt will not be complete and ready for operations when it leaves Bath next year for its home port of San Diego. While nearly all of the ship’s hull, mechanical and electrical systems will be installed in Maine, most of the mission systems, including combat systems, radars and other sensors, will be completed in California.

“This two-phased delivery approach has been in place since the contract was first struck,” he said, noting that the Navy and its contractors – including Raytheon and BAE – are in discussions now “in terms of scoping the work to ensure there’s no dropped handoff between BIW and the west coast.”

The work for the second delivery phase, he said, will be mostly for mission systems equipment and activation.

Funding for the Zumwalt is essentially complete, Stackley said, including $433 million requested in the yet-to-be-finalized 2016 budget to continue work on the ship.

“I think the funding we need is all programmed. It’s either in our hands or in our budget on the Hill,” Stackley said. “We have a pretty healthy post-delivery test and trials budget. There’s always risk with a first-of-class, we might have identified things that were not anticipated. But our understanding of the scope of work is matched by the budget that we have either in hand or is in the 2016 request.”

Two other Zumwalt-class ships, the Michael Monsoor and Lyndon B. Johnson, also are under construction at Bath.

Email ccavas@defensenews.com

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