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US navy's $6.2 billion stealth destroyer towed to port after breaking down in Panama canal

US navy's $6.2 billion stealth destroyer towed to port after breaking down in Panama canalThe most expensive destroyer ever built for the United States Navy has suffered another embarrassing breakdown, this time in the Panama Canal, leading to the first-of-its class "stealth" ship to be towed to port.

US Third Fleet spokesman Commander Ryan Perry said a vice admiral directed the USS Zumwalt to remain at ex-Naval Station Rodman in Panama to address the issues, which arose yesterday.

The ship was built at Bath Iron Works "down east" in Maine and is on its way to San Diego on the US West Coast.

"With the Zumwalt, the whole purpose is to push the limits of technology," Eric Wertheim, author of the US Naval Institute's Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, told the Maine-based Portland Press Herald today.

The Zumwalt cost more than US$4.4 billion (about $6.2 billion) and was commissioned last month in Maryland. It also suffered a leak in its propulsion system before it was commissioned.

The leak required the ship to remain at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia longer than expected for repairs.The ship is part of the first new class of warship built at Bath Iron Works in more than 25 years.

It is the largest and most technologically advanced destroyer ever built for the US Navy. It features an electric propulsion system, new types of weapons and a sleek, angled shape and hull design that makes the 186m ship appear no larger than a fishing vessel on radar.

One of its signature features is a new gun system that fires rocket-powered shells up to 63 nautical miles. The GPS-guided, rocket-powered ammunition developed for the new 155mm Advanced Gun System currently costs nearly as much as a cruise missile, making them too expensive for the Navy to buy in large quantities for the stealthy destroyer, according to officials.

Although much larger than the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers also built at Bath Iron Works, the USS Zumwalt is able to operate with a smaller crew and is designed to get closer to shore to support land operations.

"The schedule for the ship will remain flexible to enable testing and evaluation in order to ensure the ship's safe transit to her new home port in San Diego," Perry said in a statement.

USNI News, a publication of the US Naval Institute, reported on its website that the ship was in the canal when it lost propulsion in one of its two drive shafts and crew members noticed water coming into bearings connecting the shaft with its electric motor.

USNI News also reported that the Zumwalt suffered minor cosmetic damage.

The ship had been scheduled to arrive in San Diego by the end of the year to start the activation of its weapon system, the website reported.

The second Zumwalt-class destroyer, which also cost more than $4.4 billion, was christened in a June ceremony during which Maine Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin called it an "extraordinary machine of peace and security".

A third ship is expected to cost a bit less than US$3.7 billion. A spokeswoman for Bath Iron Works said the shipyard was not planning to comment on the breakdown and deferred to the US Navy.
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