What Was That Fleet Week Ship That Looked Like a Stormtrooper Helmet?

Discerning students of modern maritime warfare will quickly realize that it actually looks more like Boba Fett’s helmet.

During the Rose Festival, there was a ship moored by Waterfront Park that looked like a cross between an Aztec pyramid and the stormtrooper helmets from Star Wars. Were we hosting the navy of Venus along with our own sailors this Fleet Week? —Kilgore Trout

Show some respect, Kilgore—that ship happens to be a U.S. Navy Zumwalt-class destroyer, and it’s arguably the most technologically-advanced warship in the world. Sure, to an ignorant civilian it might look like a stormtrooper’s helmet, but discerning students of modern maritime warfare will quickly realize that it actually looks more like Boba Fett’s helmet.

Either way, its Han Solo-hating geometry is a result of the military’s ubiquitous stealth technology—the flat surfaces deflect enemy radar so as to present the appearance of a small fishing boat, rather than a huge-ass battleship.

This particular Zumwalt-class destroyer, incidentally, is the USS Michael Monsoor. It was named after a U.S. Navy SEAL who won the Medal of Honor (posthumously) for throwing himself on a grenade during the Iraq War. Unfortunately, given the way the Zumwalt project has been going for the Navy, any name that evokes something tragically going up in flames in the service of a misguided project probably cuts a little close to home. It’s like if Greg Oden had been named Greg Hindenburg.

You’ll notice that earlier I said “most technologically advanced,” not “best” or (ahem) “most cost-effective.” The Zumwalt cohort was originally supposed to comprise 32 ships. As deadlines slipped and cost overruns mounted, that figure was trimmed repeatedly until finally there were just three. Project cost? An estimated $30 billion. The project ended up so badly over budget it triggered an automatic statutory cancellation.

The Zumwalt was built around the Advanced Gun System, which fires rocket-boosted, GPS-guided shells designed as a cheaper (but shittier) alternative to Tomahawk missiles, which are apparently $1M each. But now that there are only three boats to use them, the planned economies of scale disappear, meaning the cheap but shitty shells are now just shitty, almost as spendy as the Tomahawks they were supposed to replace.

I could go on. Suffice it to say that the next time you run across the word “boondoggle” in a dictionary, don’t be surprised if at first glance it appears to be accompanied by a picture of Boba Fett.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.