Monday, December 11, 2017

Zumwalt Power Casualty

I thought the Zumwalt class was supposed to be the ultimate in electrical and propulsion technology and combat resilience insofar as power was concerned.  The ship is supposed to be able to cross-connect any power source to any powered equipment, including propulsion, and to be able to do so via an infinite number of redundant, cross-connected cabling.  In short, this ship was supposed to be immune to power outages and highly resistance to combat damage to its electrical, power, and propulsion systems.  That makes the following announcement quite disturbing. (1)

“The second stealthy destroyer being built for the U.S. Navy cut short its first sea trials because an equipment failure prevented testing of propulsion and electrical systems under full power, officials said Friday.

“The Monsoor’s problem was electrical in nature, with the loss of an induction coil causing the failure of another system.

So, the Monsoor experienced a major power problem on its first trial?  What does that say about the class’ ability to absorb battle damage?  This was the ship that was supposed to have unlimited and “unbreakable” electrical/power systems.  Any electrical casualty was supposed to be able to be bypassed, rerouted, and resupplied from other electrical sources.  Apparently, that’s not quite working out.

I have no particular problem with issues arising during trials – that’s what they’re for! - but, this was supposed to be this class’ strength.  This was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the resilience and flexibility of the ship and it failed.

I also note that almost every new ship over the last several years has experienced serious power failures during trials and initial operations.  Almost all of the LCS’s have had major power problems.  The Ford was delivered with a major power casualty unresolved.  Now the Zumwalts (Zumwalt, itself, suffered propulsion failures due to seawater in the lubricating oil).  What’s going on?


(1)Navy Times website, “Equipment failure cuts short stealthy destroyer sea trials”, Associated Press, 10-Dec-2017,


  1. Maybe nature is trying to tell us something about how we've been running our navy since the 90s.

  2. Off piste / The impossible dream of a 355 ship navy.

    CSIS Press Briefing: FY 2018 Defense Budget Report - December 2017 / Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, they carried out a historic analyses of prior year DOD budgets, there finding s:-

    The peak defense budget year was in the cold war era of 1987 and by 1997, the number of ships declined by 40 percent and the budget fell by about 35 percent, but between 1997 and 2015 the fleet shrank by a further 20%, but the base budget grew by 49%, the cost of operating and maintaining a shrinking fleet skyrocketed.

    Maintaining old equipment still in use after 16 years of war is becoming more and more expensive, but now the equipment that’s coming online is even more expensive to maintain and operate than the old equipment it’s replacing, presume there reffering to the $20+B Ford, $8B Zumwalt's, still building the 80's design$2B Burke with their high crew numbers and all gas guzzling GT's and the LCS which a GAO report showed was nearly as expensive to maintain as the Burkes. If the trends continue with ballooning operations and maintenance support costs, they are going to eat the budget alive.

    Navy in a Death spiral
    “What happens is you have higher operations and sustainment costs in your force, and that then means you can only afford a smaller force.”
    “And when you have a smaller force and you have the same operational demands that means a higher operations tempo and more stress on your forces. Which then drives your operations and sustainment costs even higher, which then leads you to reduce the size of your force even more, which can get you into a death spiral.”

    The recent collisions in 7th Fleet is anecdotal evidence that over-commitment was already having a real impact on the force.
    “If you’re reading between the lines in these reports that have come out about these accidents, clearly they didn’t have the proper training to operate their equipment,” he said “Why didn’t they have the proper training? It looks like it was because of the op-tempo.
    “They were out to sea, doing real-world operations so much that they didn’t dedicate enough time for training. And there is evidence of that across all our services.”

    The question is what changed in the Navy that between 1997 and 2015 so that O & M costs exploded and is it relevant to compare to the new high tech commercial ships which have become more efficient and O & M costs reduced, a different mindset where hard-nosed businessmen insist on ease of use with minimal hours to operate, designed in reliability and ease of maintenance is mandatory?


  3. Not that simple.

    I taught it was the LCS that was lost due to sea water in the Lubrication oil, the Zumwalt problem was sea water being used to directly cool power electronics.

    Also having redundant power routings can prevent lost of other component from failing, nor can it prevent chain failures due to one lost.

    1. From ARS Technica website, on 12-13-2016, as one example:

      "Zumwalt's propulsion issues, which caused the ship to have engineering failures off Norfolk, Virginia, and while transiting the Panama Canal, were caused by seawater getting into the ship's lubrication system for its huge electric motors."

      You're correct that redundant routings cannot prevent component failures. You're absolutely wrong about cascade failures. Flexible routing prevents cascade failures and power losses. The civilian electrical power grid does exactly this. Individual components fail continuously but the system automatically reroutes power to protect the overall system and ensure continued electrical service.

    2. Some more:

      "US Naval Institute News' Sam LaGrone reports that the root cause of the engine failures was seawater contamination in the lube oil for the bearings of Zumwalt's Advanced Induction Motors."

  4. Before the canal transit, the USS Zumwalt was briefly ported in Norfolk. I was able to take a tour of the ship as a naval engineering student at the local university. When I was in the Navy, I worked in the engine room of an aircraft carrier, so naturally I was interested in the ship's propulsion plant. The guided tour did not include the propulsion plant and our guides didn't know much about it except "it's electric". The one thing mind blowing thing I was told about it was the propulsion plant is not manned while the ship is underway. There is a compartment with numerous computer console work stations. The engineering watch sits at one of those consoles. Back when I stood engineering watches, my eyes and hands were directly on the equipment. In my operating environment, we caught lube oil contamination in its early stages before it created damage. On the Zumwalt, they wait until an alarm comes in on the computer. By then it's too late. Bye-bye bearing.

    A ship the size of a heavy cruiser with a crew of only 140, what could ever go wrong?


    1. I did a post some time ago about manning. On a relative basis, meaning men per ton of ship, the Zumwalt was/is the lightest manned ship in the Navy. Admittedly, men per ton may not be the best metric of crew size but it's at least indicative. The Zumwalt is undermanned by a factor of two, at least. In combat, there won't be any spare crew for damage control, crew casualty replacements, etc. We've designed a peacetime ship.

  5. Type 45 Daring class has had similar issues. Seems it's not as simple as it sounds.

    Having said that queen elizabeth class just passed initial sea trials. So let's hope we can get it right second time around :S

    1. I don't know what the UK's sea trials are like but the U.S. trials have become a meaningless joke. Ships pass trials that aren't even physically complete and lack many weapons and sensors. How does an incomplete ship pass sea trials?

      I hope the Royal Navy's trials are more meaningful.

    2. The USS Ford's No. 2 Main Turbine Generator exploded during testing and won't be repaired until some post-delivery availability. We accepted a damaged carrier! How's that for trials?

      We accepted LPD-17 with over a million man-hours of construction work incomplete. In fact, the first three or four LPD-17's were accepted in various states of incompletion. How's that for trials?

      We routinely accepted LCSs with incomplete compartments (and I think we still are!). How's that for trials?

      I could go on with this but you follow the blog so you've read about the problems. Trials are a joke. In fact, we shouldn't even run them since it appears to be impossible to fail them - we may as well save the money!

  6. Those problems are not unusual with new technology. When the USS Nautilus got underway with the famous "Underway on nuclear power" message, the reactor had just scrammed, and they were actually underway on diesel power.I have no citations. The story is anecdotal from some nuke shipmates.

    1. "Those problems are not unusual with new technology."

      Yes, as I stated in the post,

      "I have no particular problem with issues arising during trials – that’s what they’re for!"

      The point of the post was that power management and resilience was supposed to be the designed-in strength of the Zumwalt. For it to fail, totally, in trials is disturbing and suggests a fundamental design flaw.


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