She packs over seven tons of reclaimed steel from the World Trade Center, an on-board memorial to 9/11 and her motto sends shivers down your spine: "Strength forged through sacrifice. Never forget." A phoenix from the ashes, USS New York is a deadly memorial to both a terrible tragedy and astonishing heroism.
She is the fifth ship in the U.S. Navy to bear the name New York, but the meaning of that title was much differed for her predecessors. Her naming roots come from a letter Governor George Pataki wrote the Navy shortly after 9/11 requesting a ship that would be directly involved in the war on terrorism be named New York in honor of those who died during 9/11. The Navy was happy to oblige.
During construction, the 7.5 tons of World Trade Center steel that were integrated into the ship's bow structure were treated similar to priceless religious relics, with shipbuilders handling them with incredible care, and lightly touching them as they walked by. A contact of mine who worked with Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, the New York's primary contractor, said the ship is probably the best built vessel in the Navy, as workers understood their part in its creation on a very personal level.
This unique emotional connection with the ship and what it represents also exists among the ship's crew. I have talked with a sailor who served on the USS New York, and he made it quite clear to me that it was not a common assignment. From his memory, there was a sort of solemn dedication from her crew that he did not encounter while serving on other Navy ships. In his own words:
"USS New York, at least when I was aboard, had the most motivated crew I have ever worked with. It was a different place. You felt both honored and challenged being there. It is a very special ship for the Navy and you are reminded of that daily when you are part of her crew."
Commissioned in 2009, the USS New York LPD-21 is a San Antonio class amphibious transport dock, which are truly multi-role capital ships. She has a crew of around 360 and hauls around an additional 700 Marines and their gear, which can include everything from Humvees to Abrams main battle tanks. In addition, she has an expansive flight deck, capable of accepting any helicopter in the US inventory, but usually she operates with a mix of AH-1 Viper, UH-1 Venom, MV-22 Osprey and MH-60 Seahawk helicopters. In the future, the New York, and other San Antonio class LPDs, will also operate unmanned aircraft such as the Navy's MQ-8 Fire Scout.
New York's mix of helicopters, boats and cargo can change drastically depending on the mission. For instance, she may be outfitted on one deployment to support Marine landing operations, with LCACs in her well deck, AAVs and other vehicles in her cavernous parking garage-like hold, and MV-22s on her flight deck. The next deployment may have her working in an anti-piracy and counter-terrorism role, with UH-1s and AH-1 on her flightdeck and fast patrol boats in her well deck.
Beyond her mothership-like adaptability, the New York also has an extensive command and control facility and a hospital with two state-of-the-art operating rooms and 124 beds. For armament, she packs a pair of 30mm 'Bushmaster' cannons, two Rolling Airframe Missile launchers for point defense, and an assortment of removable machine guns for self protection against small boat and other in-port and dense waterway threats.
A little known fact about the San Antonio class, with the USS New York included, is that they can be equipped with a pair of eight cell Mark 41 vertical launch systems (VLS). These VLS units, if installed, are capable of slinging Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles, which can be integrated into the ship's powerful combat and sensor system. This would give the ship a potent area air defense capability, and seeing as four Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles can fit into a single Mark 41 VLS cell, this means the ship can pack 64 of these deadly medium ranged surface-to-air missiles. As of now, these systems have not been installed, but they could be installed if the Navy funds them. If that were to occur, the San Antonio class could operate autonomously in low and medium threat environments, without the need for a destroyer or cruiser escort.
The New York was christened with New York firefighters and police in attendance, as well as some of the families of those who died during the attacks. This ship was later commissioned in New York City, with many politicians and those who were directly affected by the attack attending.
Just last June, the USS New York made headlines as it fittingly transported Ahmed Abu Khattala from the Mediterranean back to Washington DC. Khattala is a prime suspect in the 9/11/12 attack on America's consulate in Benghazi, in which Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans were killed. Khattala was captured during a Delta Force 'snatch and grab' raid near his home in a Libyan suburb and was quickly transported to the New York for interrogation and transport.
As we mark this day of remembrance for those we lost on that terrible morning some 13 years ago, and in the wars that have followed it, it is good to know that USS New York patrols the high seas, ready to strike with all her might at anyone who threatens our way of life. And although we will never forget the events of that day, the Navy's 25,000 ton fighting memorial ship will make sure our enemies don't as well.
Photo credit USN and AP
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com