The U.S. Navy’s newest destroyer did something amazing this week: It floated.

As absurd as it sounds, it was worth finding out whether this $4-billion-plus boondoggle is at least a seaworthy boondoggle. And at least there won’t be 32 of these ships, which was the Pentagon’s previous plan.

Now that the Zumwalt is built – and assuming it won’t tip over in bad weather, which is a worry – the military will use it to test new techniques and technologies.

A priority should be using this expensive experiment to save money on the next-generation large warship, which will probably enter the fleet in the mid-2030s.

One efficiency of the new ship comes from crew: With just 160 or so sailors, the Zumwalt has about half the bodies of the standard destroyer.

Tasks such as loading cargo and firefighting will be fully automated, saving $600 million over the lifetime of the ship. The Navy also says the ship’s Linux-based computer system is less expensive to update and more efficient.

The most innovative money-saver comes from munitions, an often-overlooked expense. Tomahawk cruise missiles cost roughly $1.5 million each. The Zumwalt class – assuming the Pentagon can get the technology right – will be fitted with an electromagnetic rail gun capable of launching projectiles at seven times the speed of sound as far as 100 miles. Each nonexplosive projectile costs just $25,000.

In the end, the Navy ordered three Zumwalt-class cruisers, which may be two too many.

But at least for once, the Pentagon knew to cut its losses. Now it’s up to the Navy to prove that by spending billions, it can save even more.

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