The U.S. Navy has opted for a steel deckhouse for its next DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer, after years of touting composite deckhouses as a way to keep the ship lighter and stealthier.

The Navy inked a $212 million contract earlier this month with General Dynamics – Bath Iron Works (BIW) to design and build a steel deckhouse for DDG-1002, the USS Lyndon B. Johnson.

The deckhouse shuffle represents more rough seas for the Zumwalt program. The fleet of ships was initially meant to replace the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class ships as the Navy’s primary destroyer force, but the service instead has opted to build only three of the ships; the DDG-1002 is the last scheduled Zumwalt. Instead, the Navy will build more DDG-51s, with plans for advanced Arleigh Burkes slated in coming years.

Before switching to the steel deckhouse, the Navy also had decided to scale down the ship’s proposed dual-band radar suite.

The question of the deckhouse construction surfaced about a year ago, when it became clear that negotiations between the Navy and Huntington Ingalls Industries were stalling for a composite structure. Navy officials said they felt comfortable shifting toward a steel deckhouse partly because they had reduced overall ship weight.

The Navy deckhouse contract also includes design and construction of the hangar and construction of aft peripheral vertical launching system (PVLS) modules for integration into the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson.

“This award demonstrates the Navy’s commitment to balancing capability and affordability,” says Rear Adm. David Lewis, program executive officer for ships. “This superstructure and aft PVLS award for DDG-1002 continues the development of the DDG-1000 program toward initial operational capability.”

The move away from the composite deckhouse raises questions about the future of the use of such construction materials for large-scale ship sections in Navy shipbuilding.

Work on the DDG-1000 Zumwalt, DDG-1001 Michael Monsoor and the Johnson is “progressing well,” Navy officials say. DDG-1000 is scheduled for hull, mechanical and electrical (HM&E) delivery in fiscal 2014. DDG-1001 HM&E delivery is planned in fiscal 2016 and DDG-1002 HM&E delivery is planned for fiscal 2018.