The Navy Has A New Stealth Destroyer, But It Is No True Battleship (At Least Not Yet)

James Holmes

Key point: The DDG-1000 isn’t a stealth battleship. But it should be. And—suitably armed—it could be.

Over the years it’s become commonplace for writers to sex up their descriptions of guided-missile destroyer (DDG) Zumwalt, the U.S. Navy’s newest surface combatant. Commentators of such leanings depict the ultra-high-tech DDG-1000 as a battleship. Better yet, it’s a “stealth battleship”—a fit subject for sci-fi!

Not so. And getting the nomenclature right matters: calling a man-of-war a battleship conjures up images in the popular mind of thickly armored dreadnoughts bristling with big guns blazing away at one another on the high seas, pummeling shore targets in Normandy or Kuwait, or belching smoke and flame after Nagumo’s warplanes struck at Pearl Harbor.

Such images mislead. Battleships were multi-mission warships capable of engaging enemy surface navies, fighting off swarms of propeller-driven aircraft, or pounding hostile beaches with gunfire. The DDG-1000 is a gee-whiz but modestly armed surface combatant optimized for one mission: shore bombardment. The shoe just doesn’t fit.

Now, there’s no problem affixing the label stealth to Zumwalt, which at present is undergoing its first round of sea trials off the New England coast. Shipbuilders went to elaborate lengths to disguise the ship from radar detection. Radar emits electromagnetic energy to search out, track and target ships and aircraft. It shouts, then listens for an echo from hulls or airframes—much as sightseers shout and listen when visiting the Grand Canyon.

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