Fearsome cruiser sets off on world tour from Norfolk

March 16, 2015

Navy Times:

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 from Norfolk, Va., on its way to a circumnavigation of the globe that will take it 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 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 Earth 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.

“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, combined with the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye on the carrier Theodore Roosevelt, create a jam-resistant air picture, said Bryan Clark, an 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.

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 TR Carrier Strike Group, the most lethal flotilla 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, the ship 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 $188 million for the combat system upgrades, according to Navy spokesman Lt. Rob Myers…

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