The USS Independence, which looks more like an imperial battleship from a Star Wars movie than a traditional naval vessel, pulled into Key West Monday as part of its inaugural mission.
The 419-foot vessel -- called a littoral combat ship -- is the Navy's newest and most hydrodynamic ship. It is a fast, agile vessel that features the latest in naval technology and operates with a core crew of about 40 sailors -- a far cry from roughly 200 aboard a typical battleship of comparable size and firepower, said Capt. Kurt Renshaw, the ship's commander.
Only the second of its kind, the $500 million-plus Independence was commissioned in January in Mobile, Ala., but had not left the port until last week. The trip marks the beginning of initial testing and evaluation of the stealthy aluminum vessel, Renshaw said Monday.
The ship arrived at the Outer Mole on Monday and is scheduled to leave this afternoon. Afar views are available only from the water and the East Quay.
The only thing more impressive than the ship is the crew that runs it, Renshaw said.
"One person can drive the ship," he said. "One person can fight the ship itself."
Crews are trained in a myriad of ship duties and responsibilities -- from the complicated to the mundane. Navy Lt. Zachary Harrell said an assignment to the vessel is highly regarded, reserved only for the Navy's most highly talented and motivated.
"This is not a ship for your sailor on his first tour," he said.
The Independence also is fitted with enough of the latest electronic gadgets, computers and navigation devices to make Microsoft founder Bill Gates envious. Technology allows sailors to steer the ship from about anywhere inside the ship a computer can be connected. The autopilot system is so advanced that sailors could allow the ship to steer itself within 50 feet of the docks, Renshaw said.
The 2,800-ton vessel, fitted with the latest in surface-to-air missiles and guns, is specifically designed to take on threats in shallow coastal waters, including submarine and mine details. The ship's unique tri-hull design allows it to maneuver in about 14 feet of water, and it can be used in nearshore missions that larger Navy ships of its class can't reach, Renshaw said.
The ship's agility is equally impressive. It is able to reach speeds of more than 46 mph and boasts a range of more than 3,500 nautical miles. Such open water speed and range also allows the ship, which is painted a stealthy dark gray so it does not reflect sunlight, to be used for drug interdiction, Renshaw said. And the ship's interchangeable modular design allows it to be configured to meet specific mission requirements.
After its sea trials, the Independence will be based in San Diego.