The new littoral combat ship Independence is pierside during her commissioning ceremony. Independence is the second of two littoral combat ships designed to operate in shallow water environments to counter threats in coastal regions. (MC1 TIFFINI JONES VANDERWYST / NAVY)
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Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead participates in the commissioning ceremony of the Navy's newest littoral combat ship Independence. (MC1 TIFFINI JONES VANDERWYST / NAVY)
MOBILE, Ala — As did the 1776 declaration that serves as it namesake, the Saturday commissioning of the Independence is igniting a revolution of its own.
"On July 4th, 1776, the Representatives of the United States of America assembled in a General Congress wrote, ‘In the name and by authority of the good people of these colonies, (we) solemnly publish and declare, that these United States colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states,'" Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, said in his ceremonial address. "It was a revolutionary concept and indeed a revolutionary act, and today, to honor those words which held such weight for our nation, we commission a revolutionary warship, the second in its class."
The fact was not lost on the designated speakers and thousands who braved the ugly weather to officially man and bring to life the Navy's second littoral combat ship.
Senator Jeff Sessions R-Ala., called it a "magnificent and transformative warship." Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley, in a letter to the officers and crew, called it "innovative" and "revolutionary," and said "the significance of this event … should not be underestimated."
Though stormy weather left a number of seats empty, the rain couldn't ruin Roughead's day, he said.
"I would walk on hot coals to commission another ship," he said en route to Independence, General Dynamics' LCS version. The first LCS, Lockheed Martin's Freedom, was commissioned Nov. 8, 2008. Next comes the choice between the two that will lead to the production of 53 more ships — a choice Roughead said he was eagerly awaiting.
"I'm very impatient in regard to LCS," he said, calling it a top priority for the service. "I need numbers. We have a capability gap over our adversaries, but I need numbers."
A single prime contractor and shipyard will be awarded a fixed price incentive contract this year for up to 10 ships with two ships in fiscal 2010 and options through fiscal 2014, according to Navy officials. The admiral said he didn't care which one is chosen, as long as it is sooner rather than later.
"To the sailors of USS Independence, I will tell you that there are no two crews who are more important to this ship in its lifetime than yours," Roughead said in his address." The standards that you set, the tone you will create will be with this ship forever. Your job is to set the bar so high that those who follow you who come aboard they will only attempt to be able to reach it."
The LCS concept provides a warship that can sustain 50 knots. It boasts unmatched maneuverability, state-of-the-art technology, modularity of combat systems — and is crewed by only 40 officers and sailors. Normal crew for a ship this size is 200 to 300 people.
"This ship is awesome to drive," said Lt. Robin Roberts, who served as weapons officer for the past three years. "It is remarkably smooth, even through 20-degree rolls. I think this ship is going to change the way the Navy does business."
Fire Controlman 1st Class (SW) Jeffrey Gibson is confident that change would not be confined to the LCS.
"The hybridization required here is challenging. We have to learn a lot of things out of our rate," said Gibson, recently recognized as Indy's Sailor of the Year. "But LCS will send that level of sailor back to the legacy Navy, and I think that will have a profound impact on how we man ships in the future."
Independence, which Roughead described as "truly unique in the world," has been likened to everything from a Klingon warship to a stealth fighter on steroids. Looks aside, its cavernous mission bay and sizeable flight deck renders it well-suited for a variety of missions. Water jet propulsion allows it to operate in waters less than 20 feet deep. It can conduct antisubmarine and mine warfare, anti-piracy operations — and would be a strong asset in the Haitian disaster relief, according to Roughead.
"LCS will have the capability … to access and deliver humanitarian assistance and provide disaster response to those in need," he said. "Indeed, Independence's carrying capability and capacity, and speed and draft would be an important element to have in Haiti this day." Roughead was joined at the ceremony by retired Adm. Vern Clark, former chief of naval operations and arguably the father of the littoral combat ship, and ship's sponsor Doreen Scott, wife of the former Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Terry Scott.
Independence will be manned by two rotational crews. Blue Crew is commanded by Cmdr. Curt Renshaw, of Louisville, Ky. Gold Crew is commanded by Cmdr. Michael Riley, of Phoenix.