The Atlantic Fleet's most fearsome cruiser sailed off Monday on an "epic," around-the-world cruise after a long workup cycle.
The cruiser Normandy deployed March 9 from Norfolk, Va., on its way to a complete, circumnavigation of the globe that will take it them through the Mediterranean, into the Persian Gulf and the fight with ISIS, through the Pacific Ocean to California, through the Panama Canal and back to Norfolk.
"This is our time to carry on the legacy of the United States Navy," the ship posted on its Facebook page on Monday. "After all the inspections, assessments, certifications, hard days, and long hours, it's our time to go out and do what we do best: Defend America."
The ship's top enlisted sailor told Navy Times Monday that the ship is amped to get underway for the nine-month deployment.
"This is the ship to be on," said Command Master Chief (SW/AW) Greg Carlson. "We have the most advanced warfighting system in our class, we have an extremely focused crew and we are going around the Eearth together."
The ship's commanding officer, Capt. Scott Robertson, summed up the deployment in one word: "epic."
Keeping the ship motivated ahead of its circumnavigation hasn't been difficult.In November, Carlson told Navy Times that
"The crew is motivated," the CMC told Navy Times in November, amid their workups. "It's easy to motivate sailors for what we're doing. I do it all the time, especially with these new check-ins and sailors who have never been to sea. I give them their command ball cap, sit them down and say, 'Shipmate, we're taking this ship around the earth. We're getting underway, we're circumnavigating the earth together.' And they smile."
A deadly ship
It's not just the itinerary that makes the Normandy's cruise special. The ship has been given hundreds of millions of dollars of upgrades to its combat system. It is one of four ships thus far to be outfitted with the state-of-the art AEGIS Baseline 9, and the first to deploy.
The upgrades on Normandy and the advanced aircraft, combined with the advanced reconnaissance plane E-2D Advanced Hawkeye on the carrier Theodore Roosevelt, create a jam-resistant air picture, said Bryan Clark, an retired commander and analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
The new technology, including the Navy Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air system and the Cooperative Engagement Capability, allows the ship to fire on a target without having to detect the threat — be it missile or enemy aircraft — on one of its sensors. In practice, that means a surveillance aircraft like the E-2D or the F-35 could detect a threat and relay targeting information, and Normandy could shoot it.
That means that A long-range missile such as the extended range SM-2 or the SM-6 (the ranges are classified) can hit an air target, or potentially an over-the-horizon surface target, at farther ranges than ever before. That makes Normandy, and the TRheodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group, the most advanced that lethal flotillagroup to ever deploy forward.
"In terms of air defense, NIFC-CA enables the strike group to have much longer-range warning of air threats, which could then be engaged more than 100 [nautical miles] away at the limit of SM-6 and extended range SM-2 interceptors or with defensive counter air aircraft from the carrier," Clark, a retired commander, said in an email.
The other advantage of Normandy's upgrades, Clark said, is that with the AEGIS Baseline 9, is that the ship Normandy can conduct air defense operations — the cruiser's traditional role in a strike group — and ballistic missile defense.
"Baseline 9 enables surface combatants to conduct ballistic missile defense and air and cruise missile defense at the same time," Clark said. "Older versions of Aegis didn't support looking up and out at the same time."
All that has a price tag; in Normandy's case, to the tune of the price tag was about $188 million for the full combat system upgrades, according to Navy spokesman Lt. Rob Myers.
A green crew
For Normandy, Reaching this milestone has been an arduous uphill climb.
While Most of the crew has never deployed before. But they are all grizzled veterans of what's known as the Battle of Norfolk: the seemingly endless barrage of inspections, certifications and workups that is thrown at ships prior to deploying.
Those work-ups were made harder, in the form of hundreds of hours of additional testing, fixing and patching before the ship could deploy with this technology for the first time. because, as the first And the ship had it harder than most because being the first ship to deploy with all the new technology and software meant hundreds of hours of testing, fixing and patching for the sailors and technicians in the combat information center. So In addition to the normal workups cycle preceding a deployment, they had to certify a brand new combat system.
And, by the way, they had to pass their Board of Inspection and Survey inspection, a notoriously intrusive dive into every fanroom and facet andaspect of the ship's material readiness, which happens only once every fiveew years.
"We've never had a day when I can say, 'Today, ship, we get to focus on INSURV,'" Robertson said in November. "It's never been like that because there are always competing requirements, whether it's [Afloat Training Group] certification or its Baseline 9 validation or strike group deployment preparations, it's been a lot to juggle."
Normandy aced its INSURV inspection, scoring an 81 overall, which is on par with the surface fleet's average and impressive for a 25-year-old ship.
But with the Norfolk wars in the rearview, the real challenge lies ahead for the majority of the crew, for whom this is their first extended trip away from home. This is the Normandy's first deployment since 2010.
"At one of my first all-hands calls," Robertson said, "the master chief alerted me, he said, 'Captain, you have a pretty inexperienced crew here.' So I asked the crew, 'By show of hands, how many of you have never deployed before.' Over half the crew raised their hands.
"So I said, 'For this upcoming group sail in December, three weeks, for how many of you will this be the longest you've been underway?' I still got a quarter of them to raise their hands."
Staff writer Lance M. Bacon contributed to this report.