DDG-1000 Zumwalt composite deckhouse
The Navy is currently investing in large structures for naval applications at the Huntington Ingalls Composites Center of Excellence facility in Gulfport, Miss., (colloquially referred to as the Gulfport facility) the sole provider of composite deckhouse and hangars for the DDG-1000 Zumwalt. The Gulfport facility previously developed composite masts for the amphibious transport ship LPD 17, named the USS San Antonio, launched in 2003 and the final Navy supercarrier CVN 77, or USS George H.W. Bush, launched in 2006. These applications are used to make the ships lighter and less top heavy. They also provide corrosion resistance for the communications equipment from the salt water environment. The use of composites in the large Navy masts paved the way for the large composite deckhouse on the DDG-1000.
The DDG-1000 is an experimental multi-mission destroyer that includes a single integrated warfare system, meaning it is the first system to provide surveillance for air, land and sea attacks simultaneously. Composites were chosen to protect the radar equipment from corrosion, reduce the overall weight of the DDG-1000 and decrease its radar signature.
Its composite deckhouse stores the dual band radar systems that support the integrated command system, eliminating the need for a large mast on the top of the destroyer. The deckhouse, which contains the four upper levels that protect the advanced radar equipment, is the only part of the DDG-100 that floats above the water. This is the section of the deckhouse composed of composite material, known as the deckhouse superstructure, and the bottom three levels are manufactured with steel. Most of the ship is submerged below the water and utilizes the composite material to decrease the radar visibility to equal that of a fishing boat. The superstructure is surrounded by carbon fiber and vinyl ester sandwich panels with a balsa core manufactured via vacuum assisted resin transfer molding (VARTM) at the Gulfport facility.
Despite a promising future, the DDG-1000 program has been ridden with setbacks. It survived continuous attacks from the Navy and Congress regarding the $1 billion dollar cast over original estimates per ship, rumors the composite panels were not sealing properly in 2008, and competition from smaller destroyer DDG-51. However, it has overcome these pitfalls and proved to the military that the program is necessary for future growth and development. New contracts were written in September between the Navy and General Dynamics in Bath, Maine for $1.8 billion to begin the initial construction of the second and third DDG-1000. According to the Navy, construction of the first DDG-1000 is 50 percent completed and expected for delivery in 2014.