Houston Chronicle: Fighting ship commissioned in Galveston
GALVESTON - Petty Officer 1st Class Francisco Fernandez stood at attention Saturday as his ship, the high-tech Littoral Combat Ship USS Fort Worth, was commissioned in Galveston, just up the road from his hometown of Pasadena.
"I feel honored," Fernandez said of serving on the Fort Worth, shortly before Vice Admiral Mark Ferguson III announced to more than 1,000 guests. "I hereby place the United States Ship Fort Worth in commission."
Fernandez, a gunner's mate, and the rest of the 40-member crew sprinted up the gangway and lined the deck after the ship's glass, or telescope, was passed to the officer of the deck and the watch was piped aboard.
The Fort Worth is the third of what will eventually be 55 fast and technically advanced littoral, or coastal, combat ships, or LCS, that can operate in shallow coastal waters. Each will cost about $400 million.
The steel-hulled ship can reach speeds of more than 40 knots and navigate in depths as shallow as 15 feet. Interchangeable equipment modules that come with their own crews can quickly change the ship from a submarine-hunter to a minesweeper or a special operations unit platform. Two helicopters operate off its wide landing deck.
Letter-writing paid off
The Navy chose Galveston for the ceremony because it wanted a Texas port to commission a ship named after the city of Fort Worth. The ship bears the city's name because of an effort spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth.
Granger led a letter-writing campaign to name the ship after her city that swamped the Navy with 64,000 letters. "The secretary of the Navy called me at one point and said that we know the public supports this," Granger said after the commissioning.
Fernandez, 26, is one of six Texans aboard the Fort Worth, which the Navy acquired in part through the efforts of another Texan. Vice admiral Mark Skinner, of Houston, was a member of the acquisition team that negotiated the purchase of the Independence class of ships like the Fort Worth.
The Navy took an unusual approach by awarding contracts for the Independence class of LCS to two separate contractors, each with a different hull design. The Fort Worth is the second ship built by a team of contractors led by Lockheed Martin using a steel hull and an aluminum superstructure. Skinner, in an interview after the commissioning, said problems encountered in the first Lockheed Martin LCS were solved and incorporated into the Fort Worth's design.
A second design by a team led by General Dynamics uses an all-aluminum trimaran hull. Only one trimaran LCS, the USS Independence, has been commissioned so far. One of the LCS in line to be built by General Dynamics is the USS Gabrielle Giffords, named after the former Arizona congresswoman who was wounded Jan. 8, 2011, by a gunman in Tucson and also is the wife of retired Houston astronaut Mark Kelly.
Bigger missiles coming
Critics say the 57 mm cannon on the bow and a short-range missile pod amidships is too little to fully protect the ship, but Skinner said the Fort Worth will be retrofitted with a more powerful missile system once the weapon's development is complete.
Skinner said that normally a ship the size of the Fort Worth, 379 feet long and 43 feet wide, would have as many as 120 crew members, each with a specialty. The Navy is experimenting with a smaller crew on the Independence-class ships, with each member trained to assume the job of any other crew member, Skinner said. Another new idea is using two separate crews, designated "blue" and "gold." The use of the modules and the cross-training means that crews will need constant training, which they can get while the other crew is under way aboard the Fort Worth, Skinner said.
Fernandez said it's a challenge to be a crew member aboard a type of ship that few sailors have ever sailed. The greater responsibility of being part of a smaller crew is also challenging. "They trust us and I feel good about that," he said.