An ever-present hum, intermittently interrupted by the clanging of Sailors and contractors putting tools, alarms, and diesel engines through their paces, reverberates off the walls enclosing Naval Surface Warfare Center Philadelphia’s Land-Based Test Site (LBTS).
The test site is no mock-up or onslaught of power points and general military training, though there is some to be endured. The propulsion system, generators, and numerous grey boxes filled with breakers, circuits and other essential equipment are scheduled to be installed on the Pre-Commissioning Unit USS Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002).
“We’ve been doing this for over 100 years,” said Capt. Walter A. Coppeans, commanding officer of Naval Ships Systems Engineering Station Philadelphia. “When World War I broke out, we provided trained crews to the destroyer fleets and the Navy because there was no other facility like us that could do that, and it’s been going on ever since.”
Coppeans is a USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) plank owner and also saw the Navy’s first Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) USS Freedom (LCS-1) through new construction. He attributes his excitement to this career path, saying that the determination to look forward and introduce new technologies and new concepts will carry the Navy into the future.
“Technologies are proliferating at an unprecedented pace,” said Coppeans. “Investing in those technologies now is going to help us keep pace and stay ahead of our potential adversaries out into the future. We have to have the capability to sail safely into those waters and have confidence that we can impose our will on an adversary.”
Cmdr. Jeffrey Hickox, Zumwalt’s executive officer from Pittsburgh, said that the IPS system is the work horse that will enable Zumwalt to project power at sea and to shore. Future weapons such as the electromagnetic rail gun and the solid state laser need massive amounts of power. The IPS system was built to support those technologies as they exit the experimental stage and roll out to the fleet.
“On the legacy ships (guided missile cruisers and destroyers) right now, basically you have 6 MW of power whether you’re at 30 knots or 3 knots,” said Hickox as he illustrated the differences between the platforms on a white board. “The difference with DDG-1000 is we have 12 MW of power at 30 knots but if we go down to 3 knots, we have almost the full 78MW of power potentially available.
The Navy isn’t planning to tie Zumwalt to the pier and wait on the rail gun, however. The ship will deploy with an MK-57 Vertical Launching System (VLS) and two 155mm gun systems, sporting the Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP). The MK-57 VLS provides more protection for the ship’s hull, variable missile load outs that can be changed depending on mission requirements.
“Unlike what most people are used to when they shoot and once it leaves the barrel, it’s just ballistics, physics and Isaac Newton in the driver’s seat,” said Hickox. “With the LRLAP I now have a little computer brain. So now it basically hits exactly where I want when I want.”
Hickox expressed that the advanced weaponry, current radars, sensors and the automation capabilities for all areas of the ship will start DDG 1000 out the gate with unparalleled capability.
“Zumwalt may end at three ships, but as far as 4,160 volt power and getting higher energy producing systems to support surface combatants, this is the wave of the future,” Hickox said as he expounded upon Zumwalt as a test bench for the Navy. “Going from 4,160 volt power to 13,800 volt power we’re getting the Navy into thinking in these terms.”
The majority of the Sailors, when asked about what excited them the most about serving on DDG 1000, did not mention future weapons or IPS. Serving aboard a ship named after Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, a man who used his position as the Navy’s 19th Chief of Naval Operations to make drastic reforms, was apparently more exciting than rail guns and automation.
“The thing that excites me the most is the history behind Adm. Zumwalt,” said Gas Turbine System Technician Mechanical 1st Class Jerome Liverman from Murfreesboro, N.C. “I think he was a great person and just to see this ship grow – the class grow out of his name is very important.”
Zumwalt’s then-visionary reforms in equal opportunity for women and minorities paved the way for modern Navy policies, such as same-sex marriage benefits and women serving aboard submarines. Hickox said that Zumwalt realized Sailors are the backbone of the Navy and his Z-grams led the charge in looking out for Sailors.
“As far as … stuff that we take for granted, like being able to wear civilian clothes when we’re out on liberty, a lot of the freedoms that we have now, a lot of it is because of Adm. Zumwalt, and I never would’ve known that until coming here,” said Damage Controlman 1st Class Penny Willis, an Elysia, Ohio native. “[Leadership] is really instilling the legacy in us by making sure we honor our namesake, and I’m just really excited to be a part of this. [Zumwalt] is changing and modernizing the Navy, just like Adm. Zumwalt did and I believe it’s a perfect fit for this ship.”