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  • Writer's pictureMido

USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000)

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

In this second installment of my project to build the modern US Navy fleet in 1/700 scale, I take on the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000). This is a ship I was eager to start. I mean, just look at her! Otherworldly. But before I could begin, I had to get my hands on this kit. It turns out, that like the 1/1 scale version, the model has also been discontinued! Thus, several months of digital sleuthing and a danger-filled-pandemic-excursion to Canada were required to bring Zumwalt to the igluemodels headquarters.

USS Zumwalt
Dragon's USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) in 1/700 scale.

But as such things are bound to happen, the week I began building the 1/700 ship, I saw that Dragon/Cyber-Hobby is releasing a new Zumwalt class kit that will let you build any of the three ships of the class. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

At least now I know of a lovely Canadian hobby shop!

Editor's note: Choose your own content! Either continue reading for the ship's extensive background or click here to be taken to the kit and build. Either way, the TL;DR:

Zumwalt is overbudget, stripped of capabilities, and without a clear mission.

And in case you missed it, you can read up on my build of USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) a Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship here.

Searching for a purpose

The concept behind Zumwalt traces its origins to the Navy finding its way in the post-Cold War 1990s. During this time, a series of documents including "...From the Sea" and "Forward...From the Sea" were published by the Navy and Marines. These documents laid out a vision where the Navy would de-emphasize "open-ocean" global conflict with a peer, the Soviet Union. Instead, the Navy would focus on regional conflict and projecting power inland while operating in coastal areas called littorals. Therefore, the Navy would need to support the Marines and other expeditionary forces with precision fires and also need to maintain forward deployed assets. Despite having no peer adversary, the littorals still came with their own set of challenges. Per the Navy in "...From the Sea":

For example, an adversary's submarines operating in shallow waters pose a particular challenge to Naval Forces. Similarly, coastal missile batteries can be positioned to "hide" from radar coverage. Some littoral threats -- specifically mines, sea-skimming cruise missiles, and tactical ballistic missiles -- tax the capabilities of our current systems and force structure. Mastery of the littoral should not be presumed. It does not derive directly from command of the high seas. It is an objective which requires our focused skills and resources.

Dealing with these new challenges required something, well, new. And indeed the last line found within "...From the Sea" is "Procure equipment systems to support this strategy and remain ahead of the global technological revolution in military systems."

Enter Zumwalt...well, sort of.

You're gonna need a bigger (and newer) boat

One of the ship development programs the Navy began against the backdrop of "...From the Sea" was the Surface Combatant of the 21st Century ("SC-21") program. Even though this program was eventually cancelled, elements of it survived and morphed into the also-cancelled 21st Century Land Attack Destroyer ("DD-21"), before finally settling into the DD(X) program which we now know as the Zumwalt class. Phew! Convoluted much? enter Zumwalt!

The Zumwalt class is named after Elmo Zumwalt, Chief of Naval Operations from 1970-1974. The three ships forming the Zumwalt class are built by Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine. The lead ship, USS Zumwalt, was commissioned in 2016. To meet the operational doctrine outlined in "...From the Sea", vessels in the class were to incorporate stealth, reduced-manning technologies, and provide the backbone of the Naval Surface Fire Support ("NSFS") mission via its Advanced Gun System ("AGS"). With these core design considerations in mind, let's take a look at Zumwalt's physical characteristics followed by her systems and technology. Along the way, we will see how historical naval architecture meets the present, how rapidly the naval threat-environment and associated doctrine are changing, and what spiraling costs and budget constraints have meant and will mean for the class's future.

Class comparison
The Zumwalts are classified as destroyers, but they are far larger than both Arleigh Burke class destroyers and even Ticonderoga class cruisers. Despite being physically larger, they have a much smaller crew.

Bigger, but stealthier?

Outwardly, Zumwalt has a unique appearance amongst modern warships, but aspects of her design, would be familiar to ship builders of earlier eras. For starters, Zumwalt has what is called a tumblehome hull. This means that the sides of the ship slope inwards as opposed to the outward flare found on most modern ships. Historically, a tumblehome hull offered several advantages in warship design. Boarding by enemies (think the age of sail and earlier) was made more difficult because the main deck was set back from the waterline where ships would meet (their widest part). Also with the advent of cannons, the hull sloping effectively made for sloped armor. Today, the tumblehome hull offers a different purpose: stealth. The faceted shape created by the sloped sides on Zumwalt help to deflect radar beams in much the same way that the faceted shape of the F-117 Nighthawk does.

Also harkening back to an earlier era is Zumwalt's inverted bow. Here, the furthest point forward on the ship is not at the top, but at or near the waterline. This type of bow design was used frequently by capital ships of the early 20th century and provided certain hydrodynamic benefits. The design eventually fell out of favor because a ship would tend to "dig into" waves as opposed to ride on top of them. Like the tumblehome hull, the inverted bow was chosen for Zumwalt largely for the stealth considerations.

Technology influences
Zumwalt bears structural similarities to the French battleship Jaureguiberry of 1891 (tumblehome hull and inverted bow) and the more recent F117 Nightawk (faceted stealth design).

But that's not all, just look at that superstructure! By now, you might be guessing that the superstructure is shaped with stealth in mind, and indeed you would be correct. One of Zumwalt's stealth enhancements was to do away with the traditional radar-reflecting mast-mounted radars and communications gear. Instead, this gear was to be set flush in the faceted superstructure. Sadly for Zumwalt, this was not to be. Increasing costs have led to some radars and communications gear being mounted on sponsons projecting from the sides of the ship, if they have been mounted at all.

Zumwalt compromises
Due to rising costs, compromises to Zumwalt's stealth and capabilities have been made. Non-stealthy protrusions have been added and slots remain vacant for the now-cancelled S-Band radar. Photo: US Navy

Another notable feature of the superstructure is that it is largely made of composite materials sandwiching a balsa wood core. Using composites helps to reduce the overall radar cross section and decrease weight, but it comes with added costs and the requirement to develop new types of anti-corrosive paint. Due to rising program costs, the third Zumwalt class ship, Lyndon B. Johnson, does away with the composite superstructures which are actually built in Gulfport, Mississippi by Huntington Ingalls. Instead a return was made to a traditional steel superstructure built by Bath Iron Works. Why Zumwalt was built by two different shipyards is a story of its own. Suffice to say, there are many political and industrial base considerations that the Navy must make given a project this large.

By now you must be wondering, what the impact of all this stealth-by-design is. Some sources say that the vessel is comparable to a fishing boat, or that it is 50x harder to spot on radar than a traditional destroyer.

All, errr...some systems go!

With an understanding of Zumwalt's physical characteristics, we can now reorient the discussion to Zumwalt's systems and where they fit into the doctrine, threat environment, and calls for new technology envisioned by "...From the Sea".

To provide precision fires for expeditionary forces, the Zumwalt was built with two 155mm AGS. The AGS was designed to fire a new guided rocket-assisted round over 80 nautical miles. However, this was not to be. Given the Zumwalt class was cut from 32 hulls down to 3, the ammunition development program became too expensive to continue (sources say $800k/round). Now that there is no new ammunition, what about the old? Due to a design oversight, the AGS is not capable of firing existing 155mm NATO rounds and as a result the AGS are now silent. In a further reduction of capability, Zumwalt's original 57mm aft-mounted guns have been replaced by 30mm Bushmaster IIs. Now, the main thrust of offensive capability is limited to Zumwalt's 80 VLS tubes.

Two bow mounted AGS. To the sides are a portion of Zumwalt's VLS.

To counter the threat of sea-skimming missiles and tactical ballistic missiles, the Zumwalt class had to rely on a combination of stealth, which we discussed above, and a powerful sensor suite. Part of this sensor suite was to include a novel dual band radar incorporating the AN/SPY-3 X-band radar for surface search and the AN/SPY-4 S-band radar for aerial search. On the backend, a powerful computing suite would fuse the information together into one powerful picture. However, after severe cost overruns, the S-band radar installation was cancelled in favor of the single X-band radar with software upgrades to its aerial search capability. A curious aspect of the called-for powerful radar suite, which is an acknowledgement of the need for air defense, is the lack of an actual air defense capability. Zumwalt, unlike previous ships, was never given a Phalanx close-in weapon system or a Rolling Airframe Missile for the last lines of aerial defense. She currently only carries Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles which are best suited for medium range aerial intercept. Long range air defense? That's a no-go. As I understand it, those missiles are not compatible with the software Zumwalt's X-band radar uses. Puzzling.

Below the waterline, Zumwalt has a dual band sonar comprised of the mid-frequency SQQ-60 and high frequency SQQ-61 to counter threats from mines and submarines. She also sports an SQR-20 towed array. Curiously, Zumwalt does not have torpedo tubes like the Arleigh Burke and Ticonderoga class. Instead, she must rely on helicopter launched (she can carry two MH-60Rs) anti-submarine torpedoes and Vertical Launch Anti-Submarine Rockets. To me, this feels similar to the air-defense suite: Zumwalt was given a powerful set of sensors, but a less than powerful set of response tools.

The MH-60R can be outfitted with anti-submarine torpedoes. Here is one transferring cargo. Photo: US Navy

Zumwalt is the first Navy ship to feature a fully electric power and propulsion suite. This produces benefits in acoustic signature management (stealth) and also allows for flexible power transfer across the ship. In fact, Zumwalt produces so much power, 78MW, that even while cruising she has over 50MW of power reserve. To some extent, this helps to "future-proof" Zumwalt as it will allow her to carry weapons and sensors not currently in operational use (think lasers and railguns).

Staying ahead of the tech curve also meant developing new technologies that would allow for automation and thus reduced-manning. From a budget perspective, this was a great selling point. Said differently, a bet was made and sold that investment in developing new technology would be offset by savings in crew cost. With the benefit of hindsight, or a diploma in Government Programs 101, this was a bad bet to make. Not only is Zumwalt's crew (~150) roughly 50% greater than original program goals, but serious concerns exist if this crew size can adequately respond to battle damage and maintain a sufficient operational tempo expected of a capital ship. In a perverse sense, even if technology allows for a reduced crew, it may also set that crew up for failure in the event of major combat operations.

Cavernous spaces can be seen within Zumwalt's composite deckhouse. Photo: US Navy

Taken together, Zumwalt has a watered-down set of capabilities as compared to the Navy's initial vision. One original sin appears to be a program that was trying to make too many revolutionary tech changes in a single hull design, and thus leading to a cost death spiral. But self-inflicted problems aside, the world has also changed and that too has led to a reduction in demand for the platform. A re-emergence of great-power competition and proliferation of anti-ship weaponry (to even non-state actors) has made operations in the littorals and expeditionary force landings even more dangerous. Currently, she is something of a ship without a mission, and in a sense, the Navy has brought her back to the drawing board by assigning the class to Surface Development Squadron One ("SURFDEVRON"). Here, Zumwalt will work with other new technology platforms to develop systems and operating concepts for the future.

A model ship or model ship

The Dragon 1/700 Zumwalt kit was released in August 2014 and reflects a snapshot in time of the Zumwalt story. Seriously, just read the above ship background if you haven't already. Ridiculous. Therefore, there are differences between the model ship and the real ship. Here is a rundown of what I have been able to identify:

  • The real ship has accumulated bumps and warts for all manner of communications gear as compared to the original flush model design. She even has an exposed mast!

  • The superstructure on the real ship has more anechoic tiles than the model

  • The model Zumwalt has a full dual band radar installed

  • On the real ship you will find exposed 30mm Bushmaster IIs set on top of the helicopter hangar. The model ship contains the designed-for 57mm guns with stealth enclosures.

  • Finally, of particular note, is that the real ship has a super cool "Z" emblazoned on the stern doors while the model ship only has a conservative "Zumwalt".

Some modelers may be dismayed or even offended by this. Personally, I am not. Given all my research on Zumwalt, I find these differences intriguing and in fact, I love the idea of a model of a model ship.

The build and painting

If you still did not read about the ship's background (c'mon, there's no distracting advertising here yet), let me catch you up: Zumwalt is a ship designed with stealth in mind. To achieve this, she has a faceted shape and has few of the bits and bobs hanging off of her as can be seen on traditional warships. Therefore, the kit has few parts. The kit only took a several hours to build, and most of that time was spent letting glue dry.

This is not to say that kit fit was perfect. Notably there was a stubborn gap made by the bow-mounted sonar dome and hull, and to a lesser extent, there were some gaps at the waterline. A few applications of Vallejo's water-based Plastic Putty and general sanding took care of things.

Surprisingly, I also found that the bow-mounted AGS and aft 57mm turrets didn't quite fit their designated join areas. No problem, I just removed their hull connector points. All in all, this is standard modeler stuff.

My plan of attack for painting was also fairly straight forward as Zumwalt has a nearly traditional paint scheme. She features an anti-fouling red keel (1:1 mixture of Vallejo's Flat Red and Dark Red), a black waterline (Tamiya's Flat Black), and a not-so-quite haze gray hull that is lighter than other US Navy vessels. The lighter shade is attributable to a new paint designed to prevent corrosion on Zumwalt's composite superstructure. To create this color I mixed Tamiya's Sky Grey with 30% Flat White. For masking, I used a combination of the standard blue painters' tape found in any hardware store and the more exotic Masking Tape for Curves by Tamiya. Editor's note: Always remember to 1) let the underlying coats of paint fully cure and 2) "de-tack" before applying any type of tape.

The flight deck was painted by hand using a 4:1 mixture of Vallejo's Basalt Grey : Dark Grey and the forward deck was hand painted using Vallejo's London Grey. In retrospect, each of these surfaces is big enough that I could have airbrushed them, but overall I am happy with hand brushed results.

About to take off the last piece of tape at the waterline.

Things were sailing along until...

Decal debacles

Like my prior builds, a coat of Pledge was used to seal in the base coats of paint prior to applying decals. Now, there is no other way to say it: the decals supplied for this kit were frustrating. The sheet was so tightly packed that a few hours must have been spent carefully cutting the decals apart. In fact, when it came time to apply the decals, there was no extra "tab" to hold while the decal was slid into position. I understand that model kit making is a business, and businesses need to be cost conscious, but adding hours of unnecessary, tedious, and stressful work (there are no backups if you make a mistake) to the modeler over a $5 decal sheet is not a wise cost to save. Maybe it's just me, but I would gladly pay extra! End rant.

Now regrettably (or maybe that's why you are here, for a slow motion shipwreck), I must inform the readers of two mishaps. One can safely be described as a Class-I mishap while the other was a Class-MGI mishap. In model-speak, that's "I" for idiot (me) and "MGI" for modeling gods induced. Fortunately, neither was catastrophic (those rooting for a shipwreck can leave now) and in the end I learned something from each. Here's what happened and what I learned:

The Class-I mishap involved me incorrectly laying down the "T-Ball" line where the "T" line goes on the flight deck. Adding to the expletives when I saw my mistake was the realization that these decals sat on top of the other decals that make up the flight deck markings. Long story short, I was able to fix this problem by reintroducing plenty of water (the decals had not fully set yet) until I was able to re-set the decals in the proper place. Flabbergasted that I, Mido of igluemodels heritage, could have made this mistake, I decided to research what the heck these lines mean and develop an intuition to call upon for future builds.

During Vertical Replenishment ("VERTREP") operations, helicopter pilots use the forward "T" line and rear "T-Ball" line to position their hover while loading and unloading cargo. Smaller helicopters ensure their main rotor hub does not move forward of the T line and larger helicopters respect the T-Ball line. By keeping a helicopter's main rotor hub after the applicable VERTREP line, sufficient clearance with the ship's superstructure is ensured.

Never again. Never again...

The Class-MGI mishap came as I began to airbrush the sealing coat of Pledge when all of the sudden, poof! It was gone! The "1000" marking on the bow just got blown away! I conducted a quick sit-rep and concluded there was no proximate enemy slinging 1/700 scale anti-ship cruise missiles at Zumwalt during her passage through the confined waters of the spray booth. A ridiculous thought right? I mean, she's a stealth ship. How would the miniature enemy even target her to begin with? But seriously, I couldn't believe it, this has never happened to me before.

Luckily, I saw the decal in an out-of-the-way area in the spray booth and I continued applying the sealant coat of Pledge. I figured that I would deal with the decal when I was finished with the task at hand. This was a bad decision. With hindsight, it is easy to reason the following: the 1000 decal has wet Pledge on it, that Pledge will dry, and when it does, the decal will stick to the spray booth. As we know, hindsight is usually a good predictor of said things to come, and indeed that was the case here.

Fixing this was tricky and ultimately time consuming. First, I was able to free the decal by applying fresh Pledge to it. Editor's note: A nice thing about Pledge is that it will reactivate Pledge. Second, I applied the now Pledge-soaked decal to the still-wet hull. As I did so, things started to get tacky very quickly and I didn't have time to align it the way I wanted. Worse, I created a globby mess where the decal was now placed. After much consternation, I decided to leave the decal where it lay rather than risk trying to move it again, to a marginally better position. Another Editor's note: Pledge can be sanded after 24-48 hours when fully cured. Lastly, I used 600-grit sandpaper to smooth out the uneven Pledge and applied another sealant layer of Pledge to further smooth things out.

Welp, that was an ordeal that didn't need to happen, but so it goes.


With the decal ordeal behind me, I began the weathering process. Modelling sticklers might inject the following controversy here: why would you weather a ship that is both brand new and also likely to remain undeployed to a frontline unit for the foreseeable future. She might even be retired before she gets a chance to rust!


My Zumwalt is firing her AGS (the 1/1 scale has no ammo) and 57mm guns (the 1/1 scale only has 30mm)! I think I will weather her any way I want, thank you very much! And so I did.

To bring out some of the recessed details, I applied a pin wash of Tamiya's enamel-based Black and Gray Panel Line Accent Colors over a coat of Pledge acrylic-based varnish. Gamsol odorless mineral spirits and two flavors of cotton buds were used to wipe away the excess pin wash. Traditional mass-market cotton buds were used for broad areas, and a new toy, Tamiya's Craft Cotton Swab (Triangular, Small) was used in harder to reach areas. I am happy to report that the Tamiya cotton buds do not fray like their mass-market counterparts and that they come in a variety of shapes and sizes that I plan on procuring for future projects.

Tamiya weathering
What are becoming my go-to weathering products for ships.

Finally, rust and grime were added from Tamiya's Weathering Master sets. Instead of using the included applicator, I made use of the new, more precise, cotton buds.

Final build and debrief

In terms of a model build, Zumwalt was a mostly straight-forward affair. Decal debacles aside, she had few parts and mostly standard painting. Overall I am very happy with the results. Have a look for yourself if you don't believe me!

But perhaps, what I enjoyed most from this build was the research process for the real ship and coming to terms with the convoluted acquisition and design, disjointed operating concept, and constant (d)evolution of her capabilities.

Time will tell where the Zumwalt class fits into the modern fleet. But for now, my Zumwalt has been given a prominent place on the shelf.

Time to lay out a new set of keel blocks!

Thanks for reading,


Contact the author: or on IG @igluemodels

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