The next stage in modern Naval warfare is upon us with the recent unveiling of the USS Zumwalt DDG 1000, a highly advanced Destroyer-class warship that implements the latest in electric power systems technology.
So what makes this modern Kraken such a technological marvel? Representing over two decades of R&D, the USS Zumwalt blows other similar warships out of the water by offering an electric power design that effectively reduces its signature to the lowest possible levels, while incorporating active and passive self-defense systems.
In essence, the fully integrated onboard power system (IPS) generates AND distributes electrical energy throughout the entire ship, and is then used for propulsion, combat systems, and ship services. Using such a unique process allows the lead vessel in the latest class of guided missile destroyers to enjoy the designation of being the very first “all-electric” warship on earth. In fact, the USS Zumwalt can nearly be considered an energy microgrid in itself, allowing for unprecedented versatility and self-sustainability.
Both the Zumwalt’s propellers and drive shafts are turned by electric motors, rather than being attached to combustion engines, making the Zumwalt’s power systems flexible enough to propel the ship, fire railguns or directed-energy weapons (yep, that means lasers), or conduct both navigation and firing actions at the same time. Along with a brand new Engineering Control System (ECS) system to compliment the revolutionary IPS, the electricity generated onboard could realistically power over 47,000 American homes.
According to the Navy, the Zumwalt Class is the first combatant to introduce a “Low Voltage Power System that features a highly survivable Integrated Fight Through Power (IFTP) system, which relies on new-to-the-Navy solid state Power Conversion Modules to achieve user-specific power demands.”
They continued by stating, “The IFTP architecture combines four electrically isolated zones (forward to aft) and two segregated longitudinal buses (port/starboard), with advanced Engineering Control System functionality that introduces single-operator control with unprecedented and reliable automated power management, fault isolation, and recovery features.”
While considered the new frontier of destroyers, the USS Zumwalt more physically resembles a Battleship, by taking advantage of the energy systems to enhance the size and power of the traditionally more diminutive vessel. By implementing an electrical microgrid, the technology within the Zumwalt allows for an impressive combination of power and size that simply was not possible even five years ago.
As we wrap our heads around the sophistication of the tech, this is just the first step, with the Navy fully expecting to leverage electric ship technologies in their ship designs for the foreseeable future, bringing ever more advanced systems to our military fleet.
The strategy behind this is two-fold: First, the rising and unpredictable fossil fuel costs stemming from petro-dictatorships and overconsumption threaten our ability to keep steadily rising energy expenses to a manageable level, and a move away from finite energy is the best possible strategy to break free from dependence on shaky alliances and enemy resources. Second, the move to electric systems also goes in lock-step with the next generation of technology that increases speed, maneuverability, and (most important for warships) firepower.
While the leviathan of the military-industrial complex grows unnervingly larger, one benefit from the massive public funding and wide-scale development of military-grade technology is that the United States is seeing huge advances in the efficiency and complexity of power systems in general. After providing for the common defense, these impressive technologies will eventually find their way to the private sector, and soon into the hands of everyday consumers, making such advancements vital to the long-term health of America’s energy security.
Until then, Captain James Kirk (yes, his real name) will take command of the USS Zumwalt DDG 1000 and usher in the next stage of military energy systems with a bang….or rather, in modern Destroyer terms, a powerful whisper.