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USS Zumwalt gets Panama tug job after yet another breakdown

Navy's $4.4bn next-gen destroyer might make it to home port one day

By Iain Thomson, 23 Nov 2016

The US Navy's most advanced ship yet, the $4.4bn stealth destroyer USS Zumwalt, has had to be ignominiously towed through the Panama Canal after its engines failed yet again.

While cruising down the intercontinental waterway, the crew spotted water leaking from two of the four bearings that link the destroyer's advanced electric engines to its propeller drive shafts. Both engines locked up shortly afterwards, and the ship hit the side of the canal, causing some cosmetic damage.

"The timeline for repairs is being determined now, in direct coordination with Naval Sea Systems and Naval Surface Forces," Navy spokesman Commander Ryan Perry told USNI News. "The schedule for the ship will remain flexible to enable testing and evaluation in order to ensure the ship's safe transit to her new homeport in San Diego."

Repairs are expected to take at least ten days, and may mean the ship doesn't get into its home port until next year.

This is the latest in a long litany of failures for the USS Zumwalt that have raised questions over the efficacy of the new class of ships. Originally the US planned a fleet of 32 of the advanced destroyers, but the eye-watering cost of the craft has since seen that cut to just three vessels.

The USS Zumwalt, under the captaincy of James Kirk (sadly, with the middle initial A), began sea trials last December and immediately ran into problems. The unusual shape of the ship made it prone to rolling in heavy seas. Its stealthy design was so effective that the ship had to be fitted with radar reflectors, because the 600-foot (183-metre) ship looks on radar like a much smaller craft. Its engines have suffered multiple failures.

It's natural to get teething problems with a new design, particularly something as revolutionary as the USS Zumwalt. But the Navy has already decided to revert to an older class of destroyer for its fleet upgrade. It seems someone on the general staff actually read Arthur C Clarke's warning tale Superiority. ®

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