Last week Aviation Week featured a story about the DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class testing center overlooking the Virginia Capes on Wallops Island, Va.
Called by folks there the “Taj Mahal,” the eggshell-white building features a full-scale replica aft face of the DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer deckhouse, complete with operating radar arrays.
It’s a startling contrast to the ground-based fleet of other testing facilities to test Aegis and other ship-defense radars equipment – decades old and, according to Navsea officials there desperately need of an overhaul.
Local officials there jokingly refer to the Aegis and other ship-testing centers as “the trailer park.”
Just a few sand dunes away stands “the Taj,” -- six stories tall, 46,000 sq. ft. and designed to berth 45 full-time engineers and 60 visitors.
Yet, only three have offices there now and the battery of supercomputers inside are mostly silent – casualties of the U.S. Navy’s decision to truncate the Zumwalts to buy more DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
Not only does the Zumwalt testing center contain some of the Navy’s most sophisticated radar equipment and a solid face made of the same composite material as the ship deckhouse, but the Navy had to go to great pains to even get the building started.
Forged at the Huntington Ingalls Industry composites plant in Pascagoula, La., the building’s face had to be barged to the Virginia Capes.
Navsea had to create wetlands to the north to offset the building’s barrier reef property. The Taj is built with ground floor elevation at 13 feet above mean sea level to prevent flooding.
“It’s not easy to build on a barrier reef,” says Larry McMurry, the director of the island testing center. “We are sitting on primordial ooze here. When they did regional borings here, there was muck going down 100 feet. They had to have concrete pilings down 100 feet. You have to compress the ground. You bring truckload after truckload after truckload of sand. You build it up 30 feet high. It sits for seven months. It compressed the ground enough now that’s there’s friction against the pilings to anchor a foundation.”
“If you want access to maritime environment,” he says, “that’s what you have to do.”
That’s a lot of work for a nearly empty building now in search of a mission.