On January 8, 2011 a man blundered into “Congress in Your Corner” speaking event in Tucson, featuring then-Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and opened fire. A total of 19 people were hit. Six of them died, and almost added to their number was Congresswoman Giffords herself, shot in the head. Thanks to timely first aid and painstaking skull surgery, she survived, although she would be impaired in her right side particularly her right arm, and was briefly unable to speak in long and complete sentences. Although she would ultimately resign from her House seat to focus on recovery, doing so to thunderous applause from Congress (even getting her last sponsored bill unanimously passed), Giffords became an inspirational figure: a brave fighter of sorts who recovered from what could’ve been a debilitating and fatal injury.
It seemed fitting then that the US Navy would make an exception in their codified naming scheme for naval vessels in order to honor Giffords by naming a new littoral combat ship (LCS) after her.
This ship, the USS Gabrielle Giffords, is now set to sail according to CNN, with the Navy accepting her delivery by shipbuilders during a turnover ceremony at Mobile, Alabama on December 23. It is the ninth LCS-type vessel to join the Navy fleet, 16th naval ship named after a woman, and 13th naval ship since 1850 to be named after a still-living person, hence the special exception mentioned earlier.
The USS Giffords is an Independence-class, built by Austal USA and one of two lines of LCS being built for the Navy, with the other being the Freedom-class of Lockheed Martin. Having taken four years to build – the announcement of its being named after former Congresswoman Giffords was back in 2012 – its official transfer from the Asutal yards to the Navy is the final step to being commissioned into active service by the year 2017. The Navy is looking forward to having at least 26 Freedom and Independence LCS total for service deployment.
All told, building the USS Giffords cost a hefty $475 million, and is yet another reason for a number of lawmakers to lambast the whole LCS program as a money sink, especially after reports of breakdowns in already-active vessels were revealed, along with cost increases in the ships still under construction. Naval leaders however see great potential in the ship type’s ability to operate close to shore (littoral) by offering fire support and landing assault units with vehicles when needed.
Spec-wise, the USS Gabrielle Giffords will be packing a 57-mm main gun, four .50-caliber guns, an 11-cell missile launcher, and options for mission modules. Its aircraft complement will be two Seahawk helicopters and a Fire Scout helicopter drone.
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