November 19, 2012
Credit: Credit: U.S. Navy
Michael Fabey Washington
Gulf of Mexico residents see all types of ships and barges go by Mississippi's Little Biloxi River Bridge. The region, after all, is a womb for warships and a transit artery for maritime goods of all types.
But recently one barge slipped past the bridge crowned by a cargo never witnessed in these parts, or any other in the world: a specially constructed composites deckhouse that made the vessel look more like a massive prop for the next “Star Trek” movie than anything on the seas.
Weighing 900 tons and measuring longer than 50 yd., the deckhouse is the top half of the U.S. Navy's newest and most modern warship, the DDG-1000 Zumwalt destroyer.
The structure packs the ship's bridge, radars, antennas and intake/exhaust systems into architecture designed to provide a significantly smaller radar cross-section than that of any other warship.
Made at a special composites facility owned and operated by Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) of Gulfport, Miss., the deckhouse's biggest panels can take more than 24 hr. to infuse with resin and cure.
After shipment to Bath (Maine) Iron Works, the Zumwalt's superstructure will be mated to and integrated with eight of nine “ultra units” making up the DDG-1000. Steel base plates bolted to the composite structure will be welded to the steel hull.
Shortly thereafter, program proponents say, the power will come on, the engines will rev up and the Navy will have proof that its $3 billion-plus investment is not only worth all of the trouble of recent years, but is representative of a template for ship design and program management for fleets of vessels to come.