The future USS Lyndon B. Johnson sailed away from Bath Iron Works for the final time on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Bath Iron Works

The future USS Lyndon B. Johnson, the third and final Zumwalt-class destroyer, left the Bath Iron Works at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, marking the end of Zumwalt construction program.

The ship is on its way to the Huntington Ingalls Industries in Mississippi to have its combat systems installed, according to Marjorie Hall, public affairs specialist of supervisor of shipbuilding at BIW.

“The sail away of the third and final Zumwalt-class destroyer marks an important milestone,” BIW President Dirk Lesko wrote in a statement Wednesday. “The completion of our work on the most sophisticated surface combatant ever built is the culmination of more than two decades of dedicated effort by thousands of employees. Our Bath-built-best-built tradition will now fully focus on (Arleigh Burke-class destroyers) to support the mission of the Navy.”

BIW, owned by General Dynamics, laid the vessel’s keel in January 2017. The ship was christened at the Bath shipyard in April 2019.

The Navy took ownership of the Johnson last November after the ship underwent at-sea trials to test the ship’s systems last summer, according to BIW.

BIW previously built two Zumwalts for the Navy, in addition to 37 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the type of warship for which BIW is best known.

BIW is the only shipyard to have ever built the Zumwalt class of warship, recognized by its sloped tumblehome hull design and sharp lines designed to deter radar detection.

The Zumwalt-class destroyer is 610 feet long and about 81 feet wide, with a displacement of about 15,761 tons, slightly larger than the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The destroyer can reach speeds over 30 knots, and hold a crew of 158, according to BIW’s website.

Shipbuilders watch as a tugboat leads the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson down the Kennebec River.

In the early 2000s, the Navy proposed building 32 Zumwalt destroyers, giving BIW’s workforce hope for years of work to come. However, the number of ships ordered was slashed repeatedly due to cost overruns. A Zumwalt’s inability to attack landlocked targets in a troop-support role made it less attractive to the Navy.

Ultimately, the Navy ordered just three Zumwalt-class destroyers. The Navy has spent about $23 billion on research, development and acquisition of the three vessels.

Considered the most technologically advanced destroyer in the Navy’s arsenal, Zumwalts are designed to be able to move close to shore to attack land targets and support military personnel on the ground.

By 2008, the Navy backpedaled and told Congress it didn’t need dozens of Zumwalts and settled on asking for two from BIW, but eventually asked for a third.

Construction on the first vessel, the USS Zumwalt, began at BIW in February 2009. The Navy accepted final delivery of the USS Zumwalt on April 24, 2020.

In late 2017, the Navy announced that it would be shifting the Zumwalts’ purpose from operating close to shores and supporting troops on the ground to attacking other surface ships.

During a visit to BIW last year, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said the Zumwalts will also be the first ships in the Navy to be outfitted with new hypersonic missiles, which can maneuver en route to their destination and can fly at speeds of Mach 5, or about 3,800 mph.

“Our biggest (research and development) effort is in hypersonics, to deliver that capability in 2025, first on surface ships and then – and then on Block V submarines,” Gilday said during the visit. “Fielding hypersonics in the Zumwalt-class destroyers will be an important move forward, to turn that into a strike platform.”

With the Zumwalts finished and gone from BIW’s docks, the company has seven ships under construction, all of which are Arleigh Burkes, according to the shipyard.

The vessel is named for former President Johnson, who was John F. Kennedy’s vice president, and who assumed the presidency upon Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Johnson left the White House in 1969.

Johnson also served as a U.S. Navy Reserve officer before being called to active duty after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was as a lieutenant commander in the South Pacific during World War II and was awarded an Army Silver Star by General Douglas MacArthur “for gallantry in action in the vicinity of Port Moresby and Salamaua, New Guinea, on June 9, 1942,” according to the Lyndon B Johnson Presidential Library.

After returning from active duty, Johnson reported to Navy leaders and Congress what he believed were unacceptable living conditions for the military and fought for better standards for all military members, according to the Defense Department.


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