Pre-Commissioning Unit Zumwalt, soon to be known as the USS Zumwalt, is the United States Navy’s newest and most advanced surface warfare ship. It’s almost an experiment in its own right, with only three ships planned, only 60 percent of the crew of a regular destroyer, and enough power to feed railguns and lasers that don’t even exist yet. Here it is on its first sea trials today, and just look at it.

The Zumwalt left the Bath Iron Works shipbuilding facility on the Kennebec river in Maine, like a slab-sided techno-iceberg from the future being pushed along the calm waters by staid, antiquated-looking tugboats.

Out at sea, its wave-piercing tumblehome hull continues to look a bit alien, as it’s designed to run through the ocean, rather than on top of it.

While most builders’ sea trials are relatively boring affairs, the Zumwalt’s sea trails are being closely watched thanks to that tumblehome design, in which the sides of the hull slant inward as they go up from the waterline, rather than outward, as is the norm on most combat ships today.

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Though once common in the 1800s, as it’s a great way to stack cannons, the design concept fell out of favor once turrets became the norm as it’s inherently less stable than other designs. Which is an issue, if you’re planning out an ocean-going vessel which can theoretically see the roughest of storms and can suffer serious underwater trauma.

But now we have things like computer-controlled stability systems and advanced modeling, and the Navy seems pretty convinced that it shouldn’t be a problem.

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Although if it actually is a problem, and both the Navy and the ship’s builders are wrong, we’re about to find out.

Photos credit: Bath Iron Works, AP


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