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U.S. Navy Destroyer Zumwalt Breaks Down in Panama Canal

U.S. Navy Destroyer Zumwalt Breaks Down in Panama Canal

The most technologically advanced destroyer ever built for the U.S. Navy broke down during its transit through the Panama Canal on Monday and had to be towed through the canal to a former naval station for repairs.

Commissioned on October 15 in Baltimore, U.S.S. Zumwalt was on the way to its homeport in San Diego when it lost propulsion and took on water. The destroyer was towed through the Miraflores lock, the last of the set of three locks before reaching the Pacific, to Vasco Nunez de Balboa Naval Base, the site of the former U.S. Naval Station Rodman.

The stealth destroyer has suffered engineering problems and leaks since it left the docks at General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Maine. The latest failure appears related to the initial problems, according to the U.S. Naval Institute’s news service.

The ship lost propulsion in its port shaft during the transit and the crew saw water intrusion in two of the four bearings that connect to Zumwalt’s port and starboard Advanced Induction Motors (AIMs) to the drive shafts, a defense official told USNI News on Tuesday. The AIMs are the massive electrical motors that are driven by the ship’s gas turbines and in turn electrically power the ship’s systems and drive the shafts.

The destroyer also sustained cosmetic damages when it scraped the wall of the Miraflores lock, added USNI News.

The 610-foot Zumwalt’s unmistakable angular shape drew the attention of not only local broadcast and print media but also the Panama Canal Authority, which promptly announced that the ship’s failure was unrelated to the transit or the operation of the canal.

The U.S. Third Fleet, according to the Navy Times, said late Monday:

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.


BUILDER: General Dynamics Bath Iron Works
PROPULSION: 2 Main Turbine Generators; 2 Auxiliary Turbine Generators; 2 34.6 MW Advanced Induction Motors
LENGTH: 610 ft
BEAM: 80.7 ft
DISPLACEMENT: 15,656 L tons
SPEED: 30 knots
HULL: Tumblehome Wave-Piercing
CREW: 158 (including air detachment)
ARMAMENT: 80 Advanced Vertical Launch cells for Tomahawk, ESSM, Standard Missile; 2 Advanced Gun System 155 mm guns; Long-Range Land Attack Projectiles 155 mm rounds; 2 MK 46 Close In Guns
AVIATION: Flight Deck and Hangar
AIRCRAFT: 2 MH-60R Helicopter or 1 MH-60R and 3 Vertical Takeoff UAVs

Source: U.S. Navy

The ship’s design helps reduce its conventional radar footprint to the size of a small fishing vessel, making it stealthier than its cheaper stalwart USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51). It can launch missiles from farther away and faster than other destroyers. And massive power generated from its engines makes it ideal for electromagnetic railguns and lasers.

But questions about its seaworthiness and design flaws as well as cost overruns and delays have forced the Navy to procure only 3 Zumwalt-class destroyers, down from its plans to order 32 vessels. The latest mishap is likely to fuel additional criticism of the project.

A U.S. Embassy photo of USS Zumwalt entering the Panama Canal on the Caribbean side
US Navy photo of USS Zumwalt destroyer at port in Guantanamo.

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