By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
NAVAL BASE MAYPORT, Fla, May 7, 2011 - Seeing one of the littoral combat ships in the flesh was one of the items on Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' bucket list, and he got to mark that off yesterdayfollowing a visit to the USS Independence here.
"This ship is the embodiment of the revolution in military affairs," Gates told the crew gathered in the ship's hangar.
The crew size is just one aspect of the revolution Gates was talking about. There are only 40 crewmen (eight officers and 32 enlisted) who man a ship 104 feet wide by 418 feet long. The crew is augmented by sailors in charge of the various "packages" the ship takes aboard, and it can be configured for different missions.
In its different configurations, the ship can perform anti-mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare and humanitarian relief.
The ship can carry helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles or a mix of the two. It is a trimaran with a top speed of 44 knots, and while it is labeled the LCS-2, it is the first of its class. Much of the ship is aluminum, and several sailors spoke about how that means they don't have to paint it.
The Navy plans to buy 55 of these littoral combat ships.
Gates joked that the first Navy ship that bore the name USS Independence was bought in 1814 to fight pirates. The current Independence, which can operate in blue water and "green water" close to shore, will be handy in the same mission. "The more things change... " Gates quipped.
The secretary received a tour of the ship with chiefs and petty officers explaining just how different the ship is from anything else the Navy has.
The bridge is huge, and sailors don't steer with the typical wheel. Instead, the ship is steered at computer stations and a joy stick. The bridge is carpeted, and the ship is like a floating computer network.
The berthing area is also a revelation with some rooms having two-men per room and others four. The crew is relatively senior, with the lowest-ranking person on the crew being a petty officer second class, and all personnel are trained in multiple jobs on the ship.
In Mayport, the ship was at the end of a long dock with the traditional Arleigh Burke frigates. The first view of the ship is striking. One member of Gates' party noted that the ship looks like a floating Stealth Fighter.
"It looks sinister," the secretary said. "That's a good thing."
Robert M. Gates
Special Report: Travels With Gates to Florida and North Carolina
Photo Essay: Gates Visits USS Independence in Mayport, Fla.
Naval Station Mayport