USS Independence in Key West

welcome_matUSS Independence in Key West March 30, 2010 Key West Mole Pier

All photos by Captain Conch or as noted. All rights reserved by


Navy photo







My first reporting job was a breeze. I arrived at the wrong place. I looked at the ship there but it didn’t look all that modern to me because it was the Mohawk ship museum. I figured it out in time to get to the right place. At least I had the day right. 




The entrance to the Mole Pier is guarded by a bunch of people with guns and then there are the Independence security people after that with more guns. There was even a very eager dog smelling everything. Things surely have changed from the days when you could go to Chet Alexander’s salvage yard and look for goodies. (Chet was the last licensed KW wrecker).

security at outer molesecurity-dog







cmdr_renshawWe were then escorted to the gangway where we were met by Commander Curt Renshaw who told us to call him Curt. It’s hard to call a Navy Commander on a 419 foot prototype Navy warship by his first name, I couldn’t. Commander Renshaw was assisted by his key staff. There aren’t too many key staff because the monster ship has only 40 crewmen. Unlike other war ships this elite crew are all cross-trained in other fields in order to reduce manpower. An example of this cross-training is when Cmdr Renshaw got injured and his electrician sewed him up.




The ship had an illusion of smallness because it was docked next to two massive cruise ships. The sides are all angled to deflect radar. There isn’t a ninety degree surface anywhere. It is a stealth ship.






Seeing the radar-deflecting angled surfaces of the ship from the dock reminded me of the Civil War ironclad USS Merrimack, but with computers and scary weapons.




stbd beam


Before getting on board you have to be awed by the hull. It is 419 feet of aluminum and it’s probably the only thing in the Navy that’s not painted. Because of galvanic action (when salt water meets aluminum) there are sacrificial zincs throughout the hull to slow down corrosion.





Because it is a stealth ship there are very few things sticking out. The only thing to break the shape is the cannon and the gizmos atop the superstructure.




sponson stbddougout-outrig

To call the Independence a catamaran would be a mistake. The outboard sponsons barely enter the water. They are there to stabilize the vessel without adding drag. The sponsons perform more like outriggers on a dugout canoe. This is a unique feature on this ship. This is not a planning hull but will go “at least” 40 knots (about 50 mph). That’s real fast for a four hundred foot – anything, and they don’t even have a propeller!


This monster is pushed by 4 giant steerable and reversible water jets that are powered by 2 GE 59,000 horse power gas turbines and 2 MTU 24,000 horse power diesel engines. That’s a combined force of about 83,400 horses. (My old VW Bug bad just 39 hp) USS Independence has a power to weight ratio of 29hp/ton (Destroyer: 11hp/ton, Aircraft carrier: 3hp/ton) making it the most efficient in the Navy. Everything about this ship is unique.





Because of the “outriggers” the ship doesn’t list when making turns. It remains pretty level. The most unique thing about the 419 foot hull is that it only draws 15 feet of water. Most vessels this size would need about 25-30 feet of water to sail in. This is truly an all purpose, multi-mission war ship.





Mooring the ship is different too. Keeping stealth doesn’t allow the usual tackle seen on other ships. The bollards and cleats are inside the vessel behind “port holes”.






The mooring gear is in inboard compartments for this purpose.





gangplankForward of the gang plank is an enormous ramp that fits flush with the hull. The Captain said they can carry anything that can fit through the door.







There’s a single anchor right at the bow instead of the two anchors, port and starboard, usually found on other Navy vessels.




mission-baymission-bay1The mission bay is where equipment for the multiple tasks is kept. The first thing you notice is the bright “tin foil” covering every inch of bulkheads and ceilings. This is special fire protection is designed to withstand extremely high heat. In combat, fire is the enemy and the Independence uses the very latest technology to deal with this menace. They have two sprinkler systems. One sprays Aqueous Fire Fighting Foam at a very, very high rate. The other sprays purified water (so it can get on electronics without doing damage) that fills the area with a super-fine mist that removes oxygen from the area–killing any fire.



There is an elevator the size of a shipping contain that goes up to the flight deck. They can load or unload the ship from above or through the side door as needed. Versatility is he thing with this ship. I was impressed with the ramp used to get to the elevator. It was big, but they folded it out of the way as only the Navy can do.



an_mineThe idea of this ship is to be utilitarian–no fixed mission. They have Modular Mission Packages that are loaded depending on current needs. Some of the packages that are designed for operations are, surface warfare, mine clearing, pirate interdiction, drug interdiction, anti-submarine warfare and recently added, disaster relief.

Just after being commissioned the Independence was sent to Haiti one week after the earthquake to helicopter supplies to the interior. that mission was not planned when designing the ship, but it has now been added to their mission.

hallwasy doorhallway


There are stairs instead of the traditional ladders to go between decks and some of the walls are paneled–another first. Most of the halls are that shiny fire stuff.





2 big garage doors leading to the helio-bay.







The Helicopter bay is above the mission bay and can hold three drone helicopters or 2 regular helicopters.






Previously to move a helicopter from the flight deck to the bay would entail multiple crew and a series of cables and winches requiring more crew to maintain them. This new setup only requires one crew and a remote controlled gismo that grabs the helicopter and drags it to its stored position.



flight-deck outside


The flight deck is aft on the second level.







bridge seats


This is a big ship and it only had 8 officers and 32 enlisted men and women, probably the smallest crew per foot of any Navy warship. Each of the crew is cross-trained to perform multiple jobs. The most interesting thing about the small crew is that everything is done from the bridge. The is no longer a radio room, engineering room, firing, etc. It is all done from the bridge.




The entire ship’s functions are recorded by multiple cameras throughout the vessel and they are monitored from the bridge further reducing the crew size. Every key stroke on every computer is recorded so any event can be recalled for study. The technology is awesome.





The ship is steered by a joy stick similar to a video game.





chart-kw monitor


They can call up charts from anywhere in the world. This one is of Key West Harbor.






The blackout curtain is used to shield the lights from the other consoles on the Bridge. Lights are kept dim and are in the red spectrum to avoid night blindness. The ceiling’s shiny fire retardant material reflects too much light and will need to be coated flat black in the future. Note the orange fire hose in the middle of the way. No one knows why it was placed right in the middle of everything. That’ll be moved in the future too.




Aft of the helm are several consoles monitoring various functions of the ship. This is the weapons console.




firing panel


The firing console is operated by keys and the firing codes are locked in the Commander Renshaw’s cabin safe.






The depth finder looks like it’s right off the shelf. The Independence uses as many off-the-shelf items as it can in order to reduce costs.




uss-independence actionIt is intended as a small assault transport that can take on various capabilities with the installation of mission modules. The large flight deck will support operation of two SH-60 Seahawk helicopters, multiple unmanned helicopters, or one large CH-53 Sea Stallion-class helicopter. (Navy Photo)

In addition to cargo or container-sized mission modules, the bay can carry four lanes of multiple Strykers, armored Humvees, and their associated troops. An elevator allows air transport of packages the size of a twenty-foot long shipping container that can be moved into the mission bay while at sea. A side access ramp allows for vehicle roll-on/roll-off loading to a dock and allows the ship to even transport the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.



The deadliest weapons aboard are the SeaRAM missile defense system that is installed on the hangar roof. An interesting advance in missiles is that these missiles spin reducing the need for tail fins.


gun-57mm-Boforsgun-57mm-backDeck Gun. The Bofors 57 mm has a 120-round magazine and a rate of fire of about 220 shots/minute. The rate of fire and the ability to change ammunition types quickly makes the gun suitable for engaging both aerial and naval targets. Normally a computer aims the gun, giving it high accuracy. However, the crew can also train and aim the gun using instrument panels that are either on or in direct contact with the gun. They can also mount three .30 calibre machine guns on the roof, just in case … I forgot to ask if they carried nuclear weapons. I guess I have to join the Navy to find out.



For countermeasures there are chaff guns on the starboard side of the bridge. These guns spread a cloud of small, thin pieces of aluminum, metallised glass fibre or plastic, which either appears as a cluster of secondary targets on radar screens or swamps the screen with multiple returns.





To power all this there are 4 MTU 800kW diesel generators that put out enough power to run about 2500 American homes a day.






Ship’s bell







Old fashion signal flags on this hi-tech ship







Safety netting on flight deck







“Off the shelf” bulkhead door







Stainless steel cable on aluminum stanchions







Fire-proof jumpsuit replaces fatigues







Forward deck







This is the first Navy ship with carpeting so they use Rumbas to keep it clean







Burgee at Key West







Firing console screen







John Paul Jones quote