Capt. Kirk takes helm of US Navy's futuristic ship

Capt. James Kirk took command of the USS Zumwalt on Friday, as the Navy's state-of-the-art ship moves closer to full operation.

Robert F. Bukaty/AP
The first-in-class Zumwalt, the largest U.S. Navy destroyer ever built, is seen in dry dock Oct. 28, 2013, in Bath, Maine. The ship features an unusual wave-piercing hull, electric drive propulsion, advanced sonar and guided missiles, and a new gun that fires rocket-propelled warheads as far as 100 miles. Unlike warships with towering radar- and antenna-laden superstructures, the Zumwalt will ride low to the water to minimize its radar signature, making it stealthier than others.

Capt. James Kirk can finally take command of his ship, and it's a state-of-the-art piece of technology.

Captain Kirk (an actual officer, not the one played by William Shatner) won't be taking the helm of Starfleet's Enterprise, but rather he captains the USS Zumwalt, a real-life, first-of-its-kind destroyer with unprecedented naval capabilities, according to the Navy.

The USS Zumwalt is making a splash partly because of it's stealth technology. Its antennas are concealed, and its angular design gives it a small radar profile, making the ship very difficult to track. It further decreases its radar signature by riding low in the water – so low that some naval officers have doubted whether it can withstand big waves, The Christian Science Monitor reported previously.

The futuristic vessel is so stealthy it carries reflectors so other ships can more easily avoid the vessel during fog or storms. When its stealth measures are fully employed, the record 610-feet destroyer looks like a harmless fishing boat.

Lobsterman Lawrence Pye told the Associated Press that when the Zumwalt approached, his radar screen showed only a 40-foot fishing vessel, and only when it sailed within a half-mile of him could he see that it was the Navy's largest-ever destroyer.

"It's pretty mammoth when it's that close to you," Mr. Pye told the AP.

The Zumwalt represents the "next-generation of multimission surface combatants" and is part of an ambitious plan that became as controversial as any mission by the fictional James Tiberius Kirk. Capable of attacking from both land and sea, the ship is set to sail from San Diego and thereby offer a weighty counter to China's designs in the Pacific Ocean. The ship is also distinguished as the Navy's most expensive ship ever, and the $3.3 billion price tag required the project to scale down from an initial order of 32 ships to just three. Delivered on Friday, the Zumwalt is the first of the trio.

A technological first in many areas, the Zumwalt is the first naval ship to run propulsion and weapons via electric power. Two giant gas turbines will power generators that produce a total of 80 megawatts of electricity for the ship's propulsion, on-board services, and combat operations. The power system's importance is also tactical, as the ship may someday be equipped with laser weapons. 

Even without the ray guns, Kirk's ship is armed and dangerous. A battery of two Advanced Gun Systems (using 155 millimeters or 6 inch shells) can fire precisely at targets up to 63 miles away, a shooting distance at least three times greater than current US Navy's other destroyers. The Zumwalt's arsenal includes 80 other weapons, including Tomahawk missiles and anti-submarine rockets. 

The interior's innovative design has made the Star Trek comparisons even more apt, as the command bridge includes two chairs surrounded by almost 360 degrees of video monitors to survey nearly the entire, massive ship. Despite the innovative nature of his ship and its technology, Kirk – like any good commander – is most interested in talking about his crew. 

"Yes, we're going to talk about all of the wonderful technology, but it still requires the sailors who are going to bring her to life," he told the AP.

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