DDG-1000 – Warship or Experiment?

by Crocker on July 8, 2009, 12:28 pm

in History,Military,Politics,Technology

In my prior post, I discussed the troubled history of the the Zumwalt-class, the Navy’s putative next-gen destroyer design and wondered aloud whether the class resembled in function the USS Timmerman (EDD-828), a forlorn, forgotten experiment in naval technology built by Bath Iron Works. I mentioned the Timmerman in connection with DDG-1000 because it appears to be the Navy’s intention to go the Timmerman one better: while EDD-828 was never meant to be a regular unit of the fleet, with the Zumwalts the Navy is trying to take a technological “great leap forward” with a working ship of war.

I heard the stories about the Timmerman from my father and grandfather, who both spent the better part of their working lives at BIW and shared shipyard lore with me from an early age. They talked about the Timmerman not because it was a famous ship that went in harm’s way but rather because it was a sea-going freak, an experiment that not even BIW’s operating crew could fully sort out. It was a ship specifically built to push materials and propulsion technology beyond the known limits of the day. And while BIW and the Navy both learned much from the experiment, the ship BIW produced had a short and unhappily eventful life.

The Timmerman was the last of the World War II Gearing-class destroyers and wasn’t actually laid down by BIW until October 1945. The Navy suspended construction on the Timmerman in January 1946 when the destroyer was 46% complete. The suspension order indicated, however, that the Bureau of Ships had something special in mind for the ship, which it made clear in orders six months later:

That this vessel shall be of the most advanced technical design obtainable and to this end, you shall, in cooperation with . . . the Bureau of Ships, use your best efforts, ingenuity and skill to develop and design a machinery plant for installation in the vessel having maximum economy of operation with the minimum space and weight commensurate with reliability.

Specifically, BIW was to develop, build, and install a machinery package in the Timmerman that developed 100,000 SHP within the space and weight limitations of the conventional 60,000 SHP plant found in other Gearings. Worried that it was losing the edge in propulsion technology, the Navy set aside performance guarantees and assumed all risks except for non-conformance of materials and workmanship. The Navy also assumed all costs for experimental work and design studies in order to encourage freethinking. The Timmerman was to become sui generis in naval engineering, designed  “. . . to step out into the future, as far out in the blue as we [can] safely go, and the ship [is] not intended to be completely reliable.”

While the BIW-Gibbs & Cox team devoted serious study to the use of gas-turbine technology, for reasons of weight they ultimately settled on a high pressure, high temperature steam plant. Timmerman’s final propulsion plant – actually two separate propulsion plants each designed in theory to produce 50,000 SHP – was exotic even by today’s standards. The Westinghouse-produced starboard plant consisted of two single-furnace, 875 psi 1,050-degree boilers equipped with fully automatic combustion controls. The boilers supplied steam to cruising, high pressure, and low pressure turbines. These turbines connected through a single reduction gear to high speed shafting that turned up to 1,800 rpm at full power and then went through a planetary secondary reduction gear located 72 feet aft with conventional shafting to the propeller. The GE-produced port plant included a conventional double reduction gear and shafting with steam being provided by two single furnace, 2,000 psi 1,050-degree controlled circulation boilers feeding steam into a conventional turbine set. Overall, the plant weighed 104 tons less than a conventional plant while providing 40,000 more SHP.

As a weight saving measure, the designers installed new model 650 Kilowatt generators capable of generating 1,000 volts at 400 hz (compared to other Gearings, which had 400 KW systems producing 450 volts at 60 hz). The new system used high-speed, light weight motors and cabling that reduced overall weight by 55%. The ship’s superstructure and one of the 5-in/38-gun foundations was made of aluminum and for hull plating the designers used various high-tensile strength steel alloys instead of mild steel. Finally, the ship was equipped with a new type of steering gear weighing only a quarter as much as the standard hydraulic ram system.

Naturally, the program suffered through one delay after another, with multiple modifications throughout the ship’s entire construction and testing phases. Over the seven years it took to complete the ship, the project’s original authors eventually moved on to other duties, leaving behind BuShips personnel increasingly impatient with the delays and mounting costs. Finally, BuShips ordered BIW to deliver the ship, ready or not, in September 1952. In the words of BIW historian Ralph Linwood Snow:

BIW engineers, technicians, and workmen introduced enough field modifications to permit her builder’s trials. The Iron Works operating crew even managed to reach full power on several occasions, something her later Navy operating crews were unable to achieve. With the builder’s trials over, the shipyard’s operating crew steamed the Timmerman to Boston where she was formally turned over to the Navy on 23 September 1952.

Commissioned three days later as EDD-828 (Experimental Destroyer), Timmerman spent only five and one-half years in commission before being stricken and scrapped in 1958. During that time, however, she was subjected to rigorous testing as the Bureau of Ships evaluated her innovative systems. On more than one occasion she would limp back to port as one or another key system failed, and once she had to be towed into Newport following the complete breakdown of her electrical system, apparently the Achilles heel of the entire design. But in her few years of service, she accomplished the goal originally set for her to telescope the time normally required to make major advances in marine engineering and naval architecture. She was not intended as a prototype of future destroyers, but rather as a floating laboratory in which the maximum number of advanced design components could be tested and evaluated for future use.

I trust that DDG-1000 isn’t another EDD-828. And bear in mind that Timmerman’s weapons and electronics suite were utterly conventional – unlike the Zumwalt. Perhaps the Navy should designate the Zumwalt EDDG-1000?

(Timmerman history adapted from Bath Iron Works, The First Hundred Years, by Ralph Linwood Snow and Cradle of Ships, A History of Bath Iron Works, by Garnett Laidlaw Eskew).

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Pat July 21, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Thnks for the history lesson! I steamed the USS Rowan, Dd -782 and the USS Orleck DD 886. It amazes me the how anal that Navy engineers and the military in general can be.

Bruce August 20, 2014 at 12:45 am

when and where was the Timmerman in harm’s way? Did she ever see combat?

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