BATH, Maine (AP) — Two daughters and son of the late Adm. Elmo "Bud" Zumwalt helped Bath Iron Works mark a milestone Thursday in construction of the largest ship to be built in more than two decades at the shipyard.
The ship's co-sponsors, Ann Zumwalt and Mouzetta Zumwalt-Weathers, were accompanied by their brother, retired Marine Lt. Col James G. Zumwalt, at a ceremony marking the "laying of the keel," a Navy tradition dating to the days of sail, when the ship's keel served as the foundation of the wooden hull.
In modern times, ships have no keel so the ceremony marked the completion of the first hull segment. In this case, the hull segment is 180 feet long and weighs 4,000 tons.
Jeffrey Geiger, the shipyard's chief executive officer, said the hull segments of the future USS Zumwalt are the largest to be assembled at the shipyard. In fact, the single module on display Thursday weighed more than a fully outfitted Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, a type of ship previously built at Bath Iron works.
Several speakers said the new and efficient methods used in building the massive ship as well as the new technologies fit with the efforts of Adm. Zumwalt, for whom the ship is named.
"He was determined to consider unconventional ways of doing business, pushing the Navy in new and uncomfortable directions," said Rear Adm. Ann C. Phillips, the Navy's director of surface warfare.
The giant hull modules are so big that the shipyard, a General Dynamics Corp. subsidiary, created a 106-foot-tall, $40 million "Ultra Hall" to accommodate the massive construction effort. The Ultra Hall is the shipyard's tallest building, created to assemble the giant pieces of the 600-foot Zumwalt.
When it's completed, the stealthy warship will be the biggest Navy ship built in Bath since construction of an oil tanker delivered to the Military Sealift Command in 1984, said shipyard spokesman Jim DeMartini.
The low-slung Zumwalt will boast new technologies including a composite deck house, electric-drive propulsion and an unconventional wave-piercing hull. Displacing about 14,500 tons, the ship is 50 percent larger than current destroyers but will have half the crew thanks to automated systems.
The warship, the first of three in the class to be built, will carry the name of a chief of naval operations who waged a campaign to fight racism and sexism throughout the fleet. Zumwalt's efforts to boost morale made him a favorite among sailors.
"He was no traditionalist. As CNO, he shook the Navy up, dragging it, as Time magazine describes, 'kicking and screaming into the 20th century,'" said his son, James Zumwalt.
Adm. Zumwalt, a San Francisco native, served in destroyers throughout World War II in the Pacific and was awarded a Bronze Star for valor at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. He also served in Korea and Vietnam before becoming the youngest chief of naval operations, appointed at age 49 by President Richard Nixon.
As part of Thursday's ceremony, the initials of Zumwalt's children, including Elmo Zumwalt III, who died in 1988, were welded into a steel plate that will become part of the ship.
The ship will be christened by Zumwalt's daughters at another ceremony in 2013, and it's due to be delivered to the Navy and commissioned the following year, DeMartini said.