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The United States Navy is getting a new member of the family, so to speak. It has just commissioned the USS Gabrielle Giffords to it fleet. It is part of a new class of surface vessels called Littoral Combat ships. These ships are designed to fight close to shore, and to confront asymmetric threats. While they do represent major technological advancements, they have detractors who claim that the ships are too expensive, underperforming, or not needed for the described role they will play in our nation’s defense policy.
The USS Gabrielle Giffords is an Independence class Littoral combat ship. It features a trimaran hull, flight deck and hangar for several helicopters, and measures at over four hundred feet long.
This new class of ships were proposed at the beginning of the war on terror after 9/11/2001, as a tool to project Naval power closer to the front lines. Two different designs were submitted and the US government approved construction of test versions of each.
The Independence class ship has its design origins in a high speed passenger cruise ship, produced by the Australian firm Austel. Thanks to its high speed, maneuverability, and stability, General Dynamics and Austel saw that it could meet the requirements for the littoral Combat Ship. The modifications made to the ship include the addition of armor and armaments, hangars for helicopters, quarters that allow it to transport ground troops, a flight deck for landing and takeoffs, and even an area for smaller boats and landing craft to be docked.
The Navy originally budgeted about two hundred and twenty million dollars per ship, with the intent to eventually purchase about fifty such vessels. Unfortunately, the Independence class prototypes have run almost three times over budget, pricing out at around seven hundred million per ship.
So far, the Navy has commissioned five Independence class ships: the USS Independence, USS Coronado, USS Jackson, USS Montgomery, and USS Gabrielle Giffords. A sixth, the USS Omaha is under construction.
The USS Gabrielle Giffords is the thirteenth US Navy ship to be named after a living person, and only the sixteenth to be named after a woman.
Gabrielle Giffords Began her political career in 2001 when she was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives. A moderate democrat, she was extremely popular, and quickly rose to serve two terms in the Arizona Senate. She retired from the state capitol to focus on a bid for the US House of Representatives in 2006. She was elected with fifty two percent of the votes in her district. In 2008 she was reelected with fifty six percent of her constituency.
In 2011, an assassination attempt almost took her life and killed six others. During her long hard recovery she became an outspoken advocate for gun reform at the federal level. She resigned her seat at the beginning of 2012 to focus her attention on her further recovery.
She was on hand this week for the commissioning of the warship that will bear her name. By her side was her husband, former astronaut and Navy officer, Mark Kelly. At the ceremony, she addressed the crowd by saying “I thought of you in my darkest days, the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of the United States of America… You make me proud. You make America proud.”
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