The Legacy of Zumwalt: Innovation and Cutting-Edge Naval Technology

By Michael Deets, Public History Center Fellow, Christopher Newport University, Class of 2017
Editor: Dr. Sheri M. Shuck Hall, Associate Professor of History, Director of the Public History Center, Christopher Newport University

Admiral Elmo Zumwalt graduated from the Naval Academy in 1942 and went on to serve in the United States Navy for thirty-seven years.  He served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. At the time of being named to the post in 1970 by President Nixon, Elmo “Bud” Zumwalt, Jr. was the Navy’s youngest Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). He was also one of the most influential sailors of the 20th century, and served as CNO for four years.

zumwalt time mag
Admiral Elmo Russell “Bud” Zumwalt Jr. (1920-2000). December 21, 1970, Zumwalt made the cover of Time, which recognized his commitment of full integration of women and people of all ethnicities into the U.S. Navy.

Admiral Zumwalt passed away in 2000 and President Bill Clinton decided to honor the Admiral’s accomplishments by naming the new class of advanced, multi-mission destroyers after him and by awarding him the Medal of Freedom. President Clinton believed the CNO had radically changed the face of the Navy as both a surface warrior and a social reformer, just like the new destroyers will change the Navy. Zumwalt believed it was his job to “modernize and humanize” the United States Navy,[1] and he was a visionary leader who reformed United States personnel policies in an effort to improve the quality of life for the enlisted sailor and to ease racial tensions and gender equality in the Navy.

“Ours must be a Navy family that recognizes no artificial barriers of race, color, or religion. There is no black Navy, no white Navy just one Navy-the United States Navy.”[2]

Admiral Zumwalt meeting with African American sailors. Zumwalt spearheaded equal opportunity policies in the U.S. Navy, for women and people of color. 

New Zumwalt-Class Destroyers

uss zumwalt
USS Zumwalt, Courtesy of the United States Navy

On April 12, 2014 the United States Navy christened its first Zumwalt-class destroyer at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard in Bath, Maine. It was commissioned two years later on October 15, 2016 in the Port of Baltimore, Maryland. As is typical, the entire new class of destroyers will take the name of its first ship.

The USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) represents the United States Navy’s most innovative destroyer class, which includes a state-of-the-art electric propulsion system, cutting-edge war fighting technology and weaponry, wave-piercing tumblehome[3] hull, and stealth design with a focus on land attack.[4] The Department of Defense had initially announced in 1990 that it would order 32 new Zumwalt destroyers, originally called DD-21 and then later the DD(X) program, but due to escalating costs the Pentagon scaled back the program to sixteen, then to seven, and finally settled on procuring only three Zumwalt-class destroyers.[5] The cost per ship significantly increased with the drastic reduction in the amount of ships being built. As there was a $9.6 billion research and development cost that was to be spread across thirty-two potential ships, instead of the three, in addition to the $3.8 billion direct cost to build each destroyer, each the USS Zumwalt is estimated to eventually cost approximately $7 billion.[6]

What does DDG stand for? DDG stands for the United States Navy’s classification in the American hull classification system. In addition to the guns that destroyers have, a guided missile destroyer is usually equipped with two large missile magazines, usually in vertical launch cells. Destroyers are warships that provide multi-mission offensive and defensive capabilities. Destroyers can operate independently or as part of carrier strike groups, surface action groups, amphibious ready groups, and underway replenishment groups.[7]

Meet the Three 21st Century Destroyers

  • In April 2006, the Navy named the first ship of the Zumwalt class destroyers after the 19th Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo R. “Bud” Zumwalt, Jr. The hull number is DDG-1000.
  • On October 29, 2008, the Navy named the second destroyer after Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Michael Monsoor. Monsoor died in Ramadi, Iraq after he threw himself on a grenade to save two of his fellow SEAL teammates. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.[8] The hull number is DDG-1001.
  • On April 16, 2012, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that the third and final Zumwalt-class destroyer would be named after our nation’s 36th president, Lyndon B. Johnson. President Johnson served in the Navy during World War II. The USS Lyndon B. Johnson’s hull number is DDG-1002.[9]

What makes the Zumwalt-class destroyer so unique?

The Zumwalt-class’s design allows it to conduct multiple roles, including surface warfare, anti-craft warfare, and naval gunfire support. In addition, it has many unique and state-of-the-art characteristics that make it different from all the other destroyer classes.[10] The Zumwalt-class destroyer was designed to complement the already existing Arleigh-Burke class destroyers. Both classes are multi-role capable, but one of the major differences between the two different class destroyers is that the Zumwalt-class will be able fight more effectively in littoral operations.[11]  Littoral operations are operations conducted close to shore.  This new capability allows the Zumwalt-class destroyer to provide land attack support for United States ground troops for several days or weeks.  Having a constant presence offshore will provide United States ground forces with long-range missile capabilities and continuous support for the Marine Corps fire-support requirements.[12]

There are also many different characteristics that separate the Zumwalt-class from previous destroyer classes, as explained in this graphic.

uss zumwalt graphic
Characteristics of USS Zumwalt, Courtesy of USS Zumwalt, Public Affairs, U.S. Navy

Here is a list of some of the fundamental characteristics of the USS Zumwalt:

  • Keel Laid: 17 November 2011
  • Launched: 28 October 2013
  • Christened: 12 April 2014
  • Builder: General Dynamics Bath Iron Works
  • Propulsion: (2) Main Turbine Generators (MTG); (2) Auxiliary Turbine
    Generators (ATG); (2) 34.6 MW Advanced Induction Motors (AIM)
  • Length: 610 ft.
  • Beam: 80.7 ft.
  • Displacement: 15,656 long tons
  • Speed: 30kts
  • Crew: 158 (including air detachment)
  • Armament: (80) Advanced Vertical Launch (AVLS) cells for Tomahawk,
    ESSM, Standard Missile; (2) Advanced Gun System (AGS) 155 mm guns;
    Long-Range Land Attack Projectiles (LRLAP) 155 mm rounds; (2) MK 46
    Close In Guns (CIGS)
  • Aircraft: (2) MH60R or (1) MH60R and (3) Fire Scout VTUAVs

Ship Design

When looking at the USS Zumwalt, one will notice that the structure of the ship is unlike other destroyers.  The unique shape was created for strategic purposes. The Zumwalt has a ‘tumblehome’ hull. Tumblehome means that the hull of the ship slants inward instead of outward above the waterline.  It is interesting to note that the tumblehome hull form was actually last used in 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War. The hull also employs what is known “wave piercing” in that the inverted bow is designed to cut through or pierce the waves instead of riding over them.[13] The reappearance of the old tumblehome hull design, in addition to wave-piercing technology, makes the Zumwalt-class destroyer as close to a submarine as a surface ship since much of the vessel’s structure is actually underwater.[14]

uss zum floats.jpg
USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) floats out of dry dock at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard, Courtesy of

These two characteristics mean that the hull, “significantly reduces the radar cross section since such a slope returns a much less defined radar image rather than a more hard-angled hull form.”[15] In other words, the new shape of the destroyer makes the warship less visible, appearing no larger than a small fishing boat on the enemy’s radar even though it is 610 feet long and 40% larger than an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.[16]

In addition to reducing its acoustic output due to its design, the composite superstructure also allows for a standard crew size of only 158 sailors, including a 28-member aviation detachment, which is far less than the more than 300 Navy personnel that are needed to man the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. According to Navy officials at the Pentagon, the smaller crew size is possible because of the advanced automated systems which “make it easier and much more effective for the sailor to operate.”[17] The smaller crew size will make it less expensive to operate.

Innovative Power System

Another innovative design feature occurs below deck. The Zumwalt-class destroyer is powered by a state-of-the-art electric propulsion system. Traditionally, all United States Navy vessels are powered with gas turbines driving controllable pitch propellers through large and complex gearboxes. The USS Zumwalt is the first U.S. naval surface ship to feature all-electric propulsion. According to Alan Kabulski, director for naval accounts at GE Power Conversions, “We’re no longer restricting the engines to provide propulsion only. This design allows you to send electric power wherever you need it. You can access megawatts in a short amount of time and convert it into energy. It’s instantaneous.”[18]

The innovative technology allows the giant induction motors, which are connected directly to the propeller shafts, to route the electricity to an enormous range of sensors, weapons, radar, and ship’s services in addition to providing power to propulsion. In doing so, the new integrated power system (IPS) can free up as much as eighty percent of the ship’s power that used to be needed for propulsion just by switching to this new system and eliminating the old gearbox; in turn, it allows the ship to have almost 10 times more available power than previous destroyers. The additional benefits are a reduction in acoustic signature, an increase in available power for future high-energy weapons systems, and improvements in the quality of life for the crew. This flexibility in power allocation also will potentially have a significant amount of cost and energy savings.[19] According to Captain Jim Downey, the DDG-1000 program manager at Naval Sea Systems Command, another benefit of the new integrated power system is that the ship will not need subsequent power system upgrades even if more energy-intensive combat systems are installed in the future.[20]

Weapons Systems

The next significant technological change is in the weapons systems. The Zumwalt-class destroyer has the newest Advanced Gun System (AGS) that consists of two 155 mm naval guns and the Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP).[21] The AGS provides “flexible, sustainable and affordable firepower against a broad range of littoral and inland targets.”[22] It also provides highly sophisticated gunfire capabilities for anti-surface warfare as well.

ags naval guns.jpg
AGS 155mm naval guns, Courtesy of BAE Systems

The AGS system draws from a fully automated, below-deck weapon handling and storage system that holds up to 750 rounds. The AGS is capable of a maximum sustained firing rate of 10 rounds per minute using a water-cooled barrel. It also will fire at ranges of up to 83 nautical miles. The AGS design supports the Navy’s goals to significantly reduce overall crew requirements by eliminating the need for personnel in the magazine.[23]

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USS Zumwalt Advanced Technology and Weapons Systems, Courtesy of the U.S. Navy

The AGS 155 mm guns are turret-mounted that allows for the use of both unguided and guided munitions; pervious systems were restricted to only guided munitions.  Furthermore, newly-developed LRLAP ammunition system features the most accurate and longest range-guided projectile in U.S. Navy’s history, with a circular error probable (CEB) of only 50 meters.[24] The primary advantage to the AGS new technology is its increased capability for supporting Marine Corps and Army forces engaged in expeditionary assaults or littoral urban operations.[25]

Lockheed Martin LRLAP, Courtesy of Lockheed Martin

Peripheral Vehicle Launch System (PVLS)

The USS Zumwalt features a PVLS, which is a system of armored compartments located around the periphery of the destroyer. Each PVLS compartment contains and protects one MK57 Vertical Launching System. According to Raytheon, who made the system: “This design makes launchers and missiles resistant to battle damage while safely isolating them from crew and equipment spaces.”[26]

The Promise of the Zumwalt-Class

Even though there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the next generation destroyer, the Zumwalt-class destroyer will help the United States Navy fulfill its goal of being where it needs to be, and when it needs to be there. The cutting-edge technology enables the Zumwalt-class destroyers advanced capabilities, provides the ship’s unmatched versatility, and dramatically reduces manning requirements.  The multi-mission stealth destroyer of the 21st century will be able to evade enemy detection, slip into the shores along foreign coastlines, and deliver devastatingly accurate firepower hundreds of miles inland that will clear the way for amphibious troop landings. Aspects of the ground-breaking innovations and technology that were specifically developed for the Zumwalt DDG-1000 class destroyer will influence all United States Navy ships built in the future.


Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., August 1970. United States Navy


Works Cited

[1] Larry Berman, Zumwalt: The life and times of Admiral Elmo Russell “Bud” Zumwalt, Jr. (Harper, 2012); Zumwalt Public Affairs. “Navy’s Most Advanced Warship USS Zumwalt Visits Mayport.” U.S. Department of Defense Information. October 26, 2016.

[2] Z-Gram 66, December 17,1970. Cited in Clayton Farrington, “Z-Gram 116: The Navy’s ‘Equal Rights Amendment.'” Hampton Roads Naval Museum.; Greene, Zumwalt-Class, 29.

[3] This nautical term refers to, “the narrowing of a ship’s hull with greater distance above the water-line.” Source:

[4] Stephen M. Greene, Zumwalt-Class: A Reference for the 21st Century Destroyer. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016, 6;  USS Zumwalt Public Affairs. “Navy’s Most Advanced Warship USS Zumwalt Visits Mayport.” U.S. Department of Defense Information. October 26, 2016.

[5] Elizabeth Barber, “Navy new destroyer: USS Zumwalt is bigger, badder than any other destroyer.” The Christian Science Monitor. October 13, 2013.

[6] H.R. 5122 (109): John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal year 2007, Subtitle C, Navy Programs, Section 124. “Construction of first two vessels under the DDG–1000 Next-Generation Destroyer program.” September 30, 2006; “Cutting-edge Navy warships being built in Maine and Mississippi,” Associated Press, April 12, 2012.

[7] The United States Navy, “Cruisers and Destroyers.”

[8] Cindy Clayton, “Navy to name newest destroyer after SEAL who died in Iraq” The Virginian-Pilot, October 30, 2008.

[9] “Navy Names Zumwalt-Class Destroyer USS Lyndon B Johnson,” Department of Defense. April 16, 2012.

[10] Greene, Zumwalt-Class, 6.

[11] “A New Dawn For American Seapower,” USS Zumwalt DDG-1000.

[12] “DDG-1000 Zumwalt/ DD(X) Multi-Mission Surface Combatant,” October 15, 2016

[13] Greene, Zumwalt-Class, 9; “DDG-1000 Zumwalt/ DD(X) Multi-Mission Surface Combatant,”

[14] “DDG-1000 Zumwalt/ DD(X) Multi-Mission Surface Combatant,”

[15] “DDG 1000 Zumwalt Class – Multimission Destroyer,” Naval Technology. Accessed December 24, 2016.

[16] Greene, Zumwalt-Class, 8; Thom Patterson and Brad Lendon, “Navy’s Stealth Destroyer Designed for the video game generation.” CNN, June 14, 2014.  Accessed on January 7, 2016.

[17] Patterson and Lendon, “Navy’s Stealth Destroyer Designed for the video game generation.” CNN, June 14, 2014.  Accessed on January 7, 2016.

[18] Tomas Kelner, “Huge New All-Electric Stealth Destroyer Makes First Rescue at Sea.” Product Design & Development. December 15, 2015.

[19] “A New Dawn for American Seapower.”

[20] “Capabilities and Missions of the Zumwalt Class Destroyers,” Interview with Captain Downey by NavyLive.  February 28, 2013.

[21] Greene, Zumwalt-Class, 9.

[22] “Advanced Gun System (AGS),” BAE Systems.

[23] Greene, Zumwalt-Class, 19.

[24] Greene, Zumwalt-Class, 19.

[25] “LRLAP.” Lockheed Martin.

[26] “Zumwalt Class Destroyer Peripheral Vertical Launch System (PVLS Advanced VLS.”  Raytheon Company.  March 22, 2007.

Additional Suggested Reading

“DDG 1000 Zumwalt Class – Multimission Destroyer.” Naval Technology.

Larry Berman, Zumwalt: The Life and Times of Admiral Elmo Russell “Bud” Zumwalt, Jr. Harper, 2012.

Stephen M. Greene, Zumwalt-Class: A Reference for the 21st Century Destroyer. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.