back to article USS Zumwalt gets Panama tug job after yet another breakdown

The US Navy's most advanced ship yet, the $4.4bn stealth destroyer USS Zumwalt, has had to be ignominiously towed through the Panama Canal after its engines failed yet again. While cruising down the intercontinental waterway, the crew spotted water leaking from two of the four bearings that link the destroyer's advanced …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fortunately for $4.4 billion, we get the extended warranty

    At least I hope we do.

    (Can we get a shoveling money into a bonfire icon?)

  2. Eddy Ito

    The US Navy's most advanced ship yet...

    Advanced != reliable, clearly.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Advanced != reliable, clearly.

      And that is a surprise, to anybody? UK electric drive warships have had their share of problems, and the same is true of just about anything cutting edge and clever, civil or military.

      My guess is that Zumwalt may have overdosed on new tech, but since this is a tech website, I moot that we should be APPLAUDING experimentation, breakdowns, accidents and failures.

      1. joed

        Leaks? Maybe they've lacked the courage and left the phone jack in the hull.

        BTW, I can only imagine cleanup on the ship "prone to rolling in heavy seas". Luckily no deck to work on.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "prone to rolling in heavy seas"?

          Prone to capsizing is how several naval architects described it. Some engineers were even less kind.

      2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        And that is a surprise, to anybody? UK electric drive warships have had their share of problems

        Yes, but bearings?

        Come on, WTF? How is a bearing on an electric ship any f*** different from a bearing on a normal ship? How is a bearing on an electric destroyer (albeit ultra-obese one) different from a bearing on a nuclear submarine? In fact a nuclear submarine bearing has to survive considerably harsher conditions - it has to manage 10+ Bar pressure differential while making virtually no noise.

        This is just somebody reinventing the wheel and charging an arm and a leg for it abusing the procurement system. Both UK and USA case. Should I mention the 3 letter acronym? Guess not, we all know it anyway.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          "Come on, WTF? How is a bearing on an electric ship any f*** different from a bearing on a normal ship?"

          Although you raise a good point, see the reaction to the now infamous strut on the SpaceX launch failure. That was mainly "we learned a lot from the launch failure"

      3. fnj

        UK electric drive warships have had their share of problems, and the same is true of just about anything cutting edge and clever, civil or military.

        Correct, but electric drive is hardly new. Turboelectric drive was routine in the 1920s. Colorado, New Mexico, and Tennessee class battleships, USS Langley and the Lexington class aircraft carriers. In WW II, 102 Buckley class destroyer escorts, 25 T2 class oilers, and close to all of the US submarines. Many ships of other nations, including ocean liners. It was a very reliable technology right from the beginning.

      4. bombastic bob Silver badge

        "UK electric drive warships have had their share of problems, and the same is true of just about anything cutting edge and clever, civil or military."

        this has been tried before:

        My nuclear prototype was the S1C in Connecticut, _the_ prototype for the power plant on the U.S.S. Tullibee. So I'm kinda familiar with problems associated with this design, and how it compared to, let's say, an L.A. class sub in the 80's. But the thing was built, and might as well get used for SOMETHING. Note that it suffered a broken shaft at least once, and had to be towed. Oops.

        Electric *CAN* be quieter. It also limits your propulsion speed (among other things). Apparently, in THIS case, it can't tolerate shaft seal leakage very well (that's mostly me speculating).

        OK has NOBODY designing this thing ever heard of BATTLE DAMAGE??? You get a torpedo shoved up your backside (hint: acoustic homing torpedos going for the noise) and the shaft seals will more than just LEAK or seize up. If you don't simply get a catastrophic hull breach, the back end of your propulsion system is likely to be FLOODED and maybe one shaft still works, but it's better than 'dead in the water'.

        A good steam turbine design (with reduction gears) will STILL WORK in flooding conditions, at least for a while, possibly long enough to abandon ship or NOT get hit AGAIN by another missile or torpedo... [or launch a counterstrike, or whatever].

        Also reminds me of M-16's that didn't ship with a cleaning kit, because "they did not need it". Then in battle conditions, they misfired and had other problems. Issue cleaning kits, MOST problems solved. And so on.

  3. GrumpyKiwi

    Nothing new here

    New ships need testing to find this sort of thing. It's a normal part of the process.

    As a comparison, HMS Ark Royal (the WW2 one) was regarded as a pig of a ship to serve on due to excessive vibration caused by having to move the shafts for her props. This was done as there was leakage in the shafts, just like here.

    Hence there being no sister ships for any of the subsequent aircraft carriers in the RN.

  4. markw:


    Kirk on the bridge but no Scotty in the engine room - there's your problem right there ...

    1. Velv

      Re: Scotty?

      Los motores no pueden tomar el capitán!!!

      1. fandom

        Re: Scotty?

        On the other hand, the captain should kind of grateful that the engines can't take him.

    2. beast666

      Re: Scotty?

      Scotty died you insensitive clod.

  5. Youngone Silver badge

    What's the problem?

    This ship is not for fighting, it's for providing jobs in the right places.

    Also, thanks for the link to the story. I haven't read that for a long time.

  6. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is payback time

      The gods don't like this sort of thing

      That's because they're ignorant, brutal, vindictive bastards (as any Syrian or Iraqi can confirm).

      AC for obvious reasons, because in my book there's limits on omnipotence.

    2. GrumpyKiwi

      Re: This is payback time

      Yeah not really. A 25 year old carrier should have all such issues long since sorted out.

      And the ocean sneers at your nanometres. Even in the 1930's tolerances were 1/1000th of an inch for turbines and so forth. Which didn't stop errors and problems from happening. The best way to test for these things is... (SHOCK HORROR!) to test them. At sea. Like this.

      1. Tomato42

        Re: This is payback time

        @GrumpyKiwi: You do know that 1 thou is 25.4µm or 25400nm, don't you?

        Reminder: water molecules are 0.27nm in size. So while the ocean definitely sneers at 1/1000th of an inch, it definitely doesn't sneer at nanometers...

      2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: This is payback time

        Yeah not really. A 25 year old carrier should have all such issues long since sorted out.

        Yes and no. It has had the propulsion system candidate for an overhaul and replacement every effing time it was in dock including a drop-in replacement by a modified nuclear unit from one of their subs.

        It was postponed every time for budget reasons up to this time. This time it was postponed for political reasons as it was pulled out of dock on the Syria voyage one year ahead of schedule and the propulsion replacement postponed once again (for the 6+ time) until next time.

        1. GrumpyKiwi

          Re: This is payback time

          The budgetary reason is that the existing propulsion unit is buried deep in the ship and they'd have to effectively half dismantle her to replace it. Dropping in a nuke to replace steam turbines is not like swapping a video card.

          It's rate it next to zero as any chance of it happening at all. She'll be scrapped and a replacement built and a better one thanks to the experiences with this one.

      3. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: This is payback time

        (Especially) as the first of it's class undergoing "Sea Trials", the ship will be pushed to the limits precisely in order to expose weaknesses and also to ascertain actual performance of the class of vessel.

        The other term that is more generally used is "Shakedown Cruise", after any major overhaul, modification, crew changes etc

        As @GrumpyKiwi says The best way to test for these things is... (SHOCK HORROR!) to test them. At sea. Like this.

        No different to what happens in any industry (e.g cars, aircraft, medicine*). Though one could argue that it is the IT industry (both software and hardware) that has been getting complacent about extensive testing before product launch.

        *in the case of medicines, the equivalent would be the human trials - some work, some don't, some are fatal to the participants. Nevertheless, a vital step in order for the product to be licensed.

    3. notowenwilson

      Re: This is payback time

      "Yes, well, we have CAD nowadays, laser alignment systems accurate to a few hundred nanometres, and a whole lot of other stuff that means we shouldn't be relying on suck it and see. I don't totally buy the argument."

      The number of graduate engineers who have said that to me is astounding. Nothing works the first time. It's just the scale of the problems that changes.

  7. redpawn

    Radar Reflectors

    Hope they didn't spend too much on those. Just about every sail boat has one at the top of the mast. They are a metal corner reflector, the opposite of stealth and the opposite of expensive.

    1. Mark 85

      Re: Radar Reflectors

      Opposite of expensive.. unless DoD buys them. If a hammer can cost DoD a couple of grand, imagine what a wad of tinfoil up on the mast would cost.

  8. Jon B

    Radar Reflectors

    Surely they should leave the radar reflectors on at all times in peacetime - otherwise would it not be relatively for an enemy easy to scan and save the stealthy radar profile to use in time of war?

  9. Brian Miller

    Stop limit needed

    Can't afford the ship, can't afford the ammo for the guns, WTF?

    When building these things, they need to have stop limits. If the budget says $100M for one, then stop at just one when it hits $100M. It's far better just to scrap it out than have only three instead of a hundred.

    1. notowenwilson

      Re: Stop limit needed

      Isn't that exactly what they did?

      1. You aint sin me, roit

        Re: Stop limit needed

        What's more, doing this increases the price per ship and that only makes the expense look worse.

        There's $10 billion of R&D sunk (!) into this ship. Over 3 ships that adds $3 billion to the cost of each. Given a cost of $1 billion per ship that makes each cost $4 billion. Spread over 30 ships, however, each would cost $1.3 billion.

        Quite a lot of that 10 billion R&D won't just be thrown away either.

      2. Tom Paine

        Re: Stop limit needed

        Google "sunk costs fallacy".

  10. JWLong

    Admiral Suck

    Seems the USS Zumwalt sucks as much as it's namesake did during Vietnam!

    USN, never again!

    1. GrumpyKiwi

      Re: Admiral Suck

      Zumwalt was very well regarded by those who served under him in Vietnam. Brown Water Navy veterans were invited to the commissioning ceremony of DDG-1000 and turned up in large numbers.

  11. Breen Whitman

    USS cumquat. Named after the citrus industry in California. Where it was built.

    1. Sven Coenye

      USS Lobsterpot?

      It was built in Maine

    2. Alister

      USS Kumquat

      So, you're saying it's a bit of a lemon?

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Welllllll. A B2 was something like a $Bn and this is much larger so by military standards

    Quite good in terms of $/lb of hardware?

    Isn't this an example of what Mary Caldor called "The Baroque Arsenal?"

    IIRC she estimated each generation of "modern" weapons was about 3x the cost of the last.

    1. fnj

      Re: Welllllll. A B2 was something like a $Bn and this is much larger so by military standards

      I always questioned the vast cost of modern weapons. A B-17 cost about $250,000 in WW II, which inflates to approximately $3.4 million today. Manpower costs and losses aside, which do you think would do a better job of pounding jihadis, one B-2 with 18,000 kg of bombs for $1 billion, or 294 B-17s with 294,000 kg of bombs for the same price? Even against a first-class military opponent, I think the 294 would have a better chance of at least some of them reaching and damaging the target than I give the single B-2. Or take the P-51 at $50,000, inflated to $700,000. Compare 143 P-51s to one F-35 at $100 million. My money's on the 143 in a dogfight. The F-35 would run out of ammo long before it could shoot them all down.

  13. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    "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."

    Translation: right now we have no idea what's causing the problems or how long it will take to fix them. So we"ll just try a couple of things until we find something that works at least well enough to limp home.




    "Do you have a backup?" means "I can't fix this."

  14. Winkypop Silver badge

    Not enough rounded corners


    1. notowenwilson

      Re: Not enough rounded corners

      Apple's got a patent on them so they had to go all pointy.

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: Not enough rounded corners


        Apple's got a patent on them so they had to go all pointy.

        Actually, going all pointy is not plain sailing either - Steve Jobs covered that angle with Venus

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not enough rounded corners

        "Apple's got a patent on them so they had to go all pointy."

        So does that mean Apple's products are pointless by design?

    2. hplasm

      Re: Not enough rounded corners

      Isn't it expensive enough already?

  15. thomas k

    "causing some cosmetic damage"

    To the ship or the canal?

    1. hplasm

      Re: "causing some cosmetic damage"

      One broken eyeliner.

    2. Hollerithevo

      Re: "causing some cosmetic damage"

      One rumpled moustache.

  16. another_vulture

    Requirements specification failure.

    The specs said it was an oceangoing ship! Now you also want it to work in the fresh water of the Panama canal? That will cost extra.

  17. Jemma


    Isn't salt water & fresh water a somewhat different density? Hence submarines bouncing off holoclines (I think that's the word)... And getting sunk.

    If the seals on the bearings are marginal for sea water won't they leak like a sieve when they've got fresh water running through them, more to the point why would you pull water from outside into them when people will possibly be firing at you, one hit in the wrong place, cooked bearings and you're dead in the water.

    This thing seems to be about as bright an idea as a liquid sodium reactor, a device that made the Chernobyl style reactors look fantastic. I mean what could possibly go wrong with a reactor coolant that explodes in fresh air, explodes even more in water and leaks more readily than a Royal Oilfield or Driptroit Diesel.

    Given some of the stuff that's been designed recently, recent election results, and other bright ideas (electric cars, when our electricity grid was designed by Lucas) I am beginning to think humanity has reached peak fsckwit.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Umm..

      I'm generally inclined to agree with you. However, the problem with determining when peak fsckwit has been reached is that human beings are forever discovering new reserves of fsckwittery...

  18. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge


    A most excellent read. I've read it yonkers ago, but the lesson(s) it contained had not been forgotten.

    Bigger is not always Best.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tug Yourself

    .... it's so much cheaper

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Superiority - uneasy thought.

    "The Court will be aware that the conditions under which we are housed and the constant surveillance to which we are subjected night and day are somewhat distressing."

    Today's prisoners are subject to less pervasive surveillance, than a free person with a smart phone.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Serious question: what's the point of having a stealth warship (especially when you only have a few of them)? The enemy will have satellites that, every ninety minutes, can spot it easily from space. Ninety minutes later the worst they need to do is check the ocean within ninety minutes steaming time of the first reported position to find you again (a trivial task of moments for image recognition software and that large warships are slow). The enemy will always know where you are, so why bother with stealth on something that big and slow? Did no-one in the planning budget team think that through, or am I missing something?

    1. hplasm

      Re Serious question:

      Not all targets ^H^H^H^H^H^H enemies will have satellites. Some do have all seeing Deities though...


    2. Pen-y-gors

      Which enemy?

      Depends on the enemy. The russians and chinese have satellite images and other clever stuff. The average Somali pirate or Yemeni suicide bomber in a fast rib doesn't - they work on line of sight or very basic radar, so at least it would help them. Or perhaps for defeating pirates you need an anti-stealth system, so that a small cargo ship appears on radar as an entire US carrier battle fleet.

    3. Alister

      what's the point of having a stealth warship

      It's not to try and hide it, so much as to make it harder to hit with a missile.

      The days of warships firing dumb shells at each other are long gone, and so the majority of anti-ship ordnance is missiles nowadays, either ship-launched or air-launched.

      Giving your warship a low-return radar signature means that potential attackers have to get closer before they can successfully lock on, and if combined with a reduced heat signature to fool IR targeted missiles can help protect the ship from attack and bring attackers in range of the offensive armament.

  22. Milton

    And let's not forget the F-35

    I thought I'd read pretty much everything of Arthur C Clarke's by the time I was 15 (although in point of fact he continued to write long after that, but the 'vacuum tubes' reference puts the story before the mid-70s), yet 'Superiority' surprised me.

    I imagine that, Zumwalt aside, many people on these pages have once again been thinking about the F-35 project. 'Superiority' really rings those bells, not least Lockheed and the military still desperately trying to persuade us (and themselves?) that stealth, for which so much of the plane's performance has been sacrificed, is its critical battle-winning feature.

    Clarke's thousands of techies in a liner puts me in mind of the hundreds of thousands of lines of code not yet written for the F-35's atrociously over-complicated systems. (How many lines, exactly, can save a fighter plane whose pilot's rear view is blocked?) The bragging about simulations and wargames in which the F-35 supposedly achieves 10:1 losses against enemies is reminiscent of those wonderful 'theoretical ' predictions about battle with a technically inferior enemy.

    I have morbid visions of the F-35, because although my Russian is OK, I simply hate attempting to learn Chinese.

    After a 'successful' strike mission, the F-35 returns, having used the tiny complement of missiles it is able to carry in its weapons bay without sacrificing stealth. Ten million dollars' worth of high tech missiles blew away two old enemy tanks and a radar truck worth about a tenth as much. On landing, a speck of stone from the runway pings the fuselage. A team of highly trained techs will now spend 30 hours repairing the skin to restore the plane's stealth. Meantime, older enemy planes are turning around for new missions every five hours. They get shot down quite a lot, but there are ten times as many, and an abundance of capable pilots since they were trained as pilots, not computer operators who have to weigh more than 61.3kg if not to be killed by their own ejection seats.

    Assaulted by 'primitive' older-generation enemy fighters, F-35's stealth seems strangely useless against the enemy pilots' eyeballs, and since it can't turn, can't climb or even accelerate very well, one round of 30mm cannon (about $US6.70, converted from Chinese currency) hits its engine. Its one and only engine. (Given F-35's single-engine configuration, a Canadian minister was asked what happens when the engine fails on a mission in the high north. His response: "It won't." So that's ok then. Jet engines never fail, do they?)

    In my tongue-in-cheek way I'm tempted to say that Lockheed and its tame congresscritters should have read 'Superiority' before starting the F-35 program. Or even thought a bit harder about all the lessons they could have learned from the F-111 in the early 60s.

    But in truth I'm not sure they would know or care. Lockheed's one and only concern was to turn taxpayers' cash into executive bonuses. Congress members' only concern was to keep their lucrative seats, thank you very much, abetted by Lockheed's willingness to (otherwise, quite pointlessly) put some fabrication work in their congressional districts. Grab the cash, spread the pork. Build a POS aircraft. Deny everything.

  23. Tom Paine

    Humph said it best (in 2006)

    "Samantha needs to nip out now as she has to buy a present for her new gentleman friend, who likes to play with his model boats at bathtime. Samantha says she's thought about him long and hard, and decided to give him a little tug for his birthday."

    ( Via )

    1. Anonymous South African Coward Bronze badge

      Re: Humph said it best (in 2006)

      That should've been Dabbsy's opening line :)

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "under the captaincy of James Kirk (sadly, with the middle initial A)"

    So he's just 'A Kirk' rather than 'T Kirk'..?

    1. hplasm

      "So he's just 'A Kirk' rather than 'T Kirk'..?"

      First of the line... just like NCC1701xxx. 20 Kirks to go...

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Breakdown in Panama?????

    Call out the Shore Patrol!

  26. bombastic bob Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Arthur C. Clarke's "Superiority"

    nice shout-out at the end of the article!

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