Ship boat

What was that Fleet Week ship that looked like a Stormtrooper helmet?

During the Festival of Roses, there was a ship docked near Waterfront Park that looked like a cross between an Aztec pyramid and the stormtrooper helmets of star wars. Did we host the Venus Navy with our own sailors this Fleet Week? —Kilgore Trout

Show some respect, Kilgore – that ship happens to be a US Navy Zumwalt-class destroyer, and it is arguably the most technologically advanced warship in the world. Sure, to an ignorant civilian it might look like a stormtrooper’s helmet, but savvy students of modern maritime warfare will quickly realize that it looks more like Boba Fett’s helmet.

Either way, its Han Solo-hating geometry is the result of the military’s ubiquitous stealth technology – flat surfaces deflect enemy radar in order to present the appearance of a small fishing boat, rather than a huge battleship.

This particular Zumwalt-class destroyer, by the way, is the USS Michael Monsoor. It was named after a US Navy SEAL who won the Medal of Honor (posthumously) for throwing himself on a grenade during the Iraq War. Unfortunately, given the way Zumwalt project is underway for the Navy, any name that conjures up something tragically igniting in the service of a misguided project probably cuts a little short of home. It’s as if Greg Oden was called Greg Hindenburg.

You’ll notice that earlier I said “most technologically advanced”, not “best” or (ahem) “most cost effective”. The Zumwalt cohort was originally supposed to include 32 ships. As deadlines slipped and cost overruns increased, this figure was repeatedly reduced until it was finally down to three. Project cost? About $30 billion. The project went so far over budget that it triggered an automatic statutory cancellation.

The Zumwalt was built around the Advanced Gun System, which fires rocket-propelled, GPS-guided shells designed as a cheaper (but crappier) alternative to Tomahawk missiles, which apparently cost $1 million each. But now that there are only three boats left to use them, the intended economies of scale vanish meaning the cheap but crappy hulls are now just crappy, almost as expensive as the Tomahawks they used to be meant to replace.

I could go on. Suffice it to say, the next time you come across the word “boondoggle” in a dictionary, don’t be surprised if, at first glance, it appears to be accompanied by a picture of Boba Fett.

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