USS Zumwalt Sidelined by Third Engineering Casualty

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Published Feb 28, 2017 4:50 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Monday, the world's most expensive destroyer, the USS Zumwalt, suffered a third propulsion casualty. Water intrusion in driveshaft bearings on both shafts led to a full shutdown of her propulsion, USNI News reports.

The casualty occurred during a transit of the Panama Canal, and Zumwalt also made contact with the lock walls, causing minor cosmetic damage. She needed a tug assist to get the rest of the way through the canal. 

This was her third engineering casualty since commissioning – and at least the second believed to be related to leaking oil coolers for her "propulsion motor drive lube oil auxiliary system."

Third Fleet issued a statement indicating that Zumwalt will be repaired in Panama. 

“Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, commander, US Third Fleet, has directed USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) to remain at ex-Naval Station Rodman in Panama to address engineering issues that occurred while transiting the Panama Canal. The timeline for repairs is being determined now, in direct coordination with Naval Sea Systems and Naval Surface Forces. 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," a Third Fleet spokesman wrote. 

The Zumwalt has a complex powerplant and auxiliary power arrangement, which the Navy calls an Integrated Power System. At its core are four turbine generators powering induction motors – comparable to a diesel-electric powerplant, but with much more installed capacity than any other destroyer. The extra peak power is intended to feed advanced energy weapons like the Navy's prototype railgun, which may be installed on the final vessel in the class (but not the Zumwalt). 

Newbuilds’ shortcomings may be related to ambitious procurement policy

Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall suggests that the drive for high-tech equipment during Donald Rumsfeld's tenure as Secretary of Defense has saddled the Navy with excess procurement risk – leading to serious technical problems and cost overruns on at least one newbuild, the $13 billion Ford class carrier. 

“With the benefit of hindsight, it was clearly premature to include so many unproven technologies in the Gerald R. Ford. That decision was made long ago as part of a DoD level initiative called ‘Transformation’,” wrote Kendall in a recent review, referring to Rumsfeld's procurement policy. “What we have to determine now is whether it is best to ‘stay the course’ or adjust our plans, particularly for future ships of the [Ford] class."

The scope of Kendall's review was confined to the Ford class, but the other surface combatant programs dating to the Rumsfeld era – the Littoral Combat Ships and the Zumwalt – have also suffered from casualties and capability limitations. The Zumwalt's automatic deck guns, a core component of her weapons systems, will not be able to fire a specially-designed guided munition because the rounds are too expensive to procure. The LCS classes have come under criticism from the Government Accountability Office and the Senate Armed Services committee for allegedly limited capabilities and low survivability.