MOBILE, Ala. -- A naval program that has become a target for critics is preparing to commission a new vessel named after a well-known shooting survivor.
Constructed by Austal USA in Mobile, Alabama, the USS Gabrielle Giffords has completed testing in the Gulf of Mexico and is scheduled to be commissioned in mid-2017. The company handed over the $475 million ship to the Navy on Friday.
Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head during an assassination attempt in 2011, helped christen the ship in 2015. It’s part of a hotly debated program that congressional critics slam as flawed and too expensive but that Navy leaders defend as a critical new step in naval warfighting.
The 421-foot-long Giffords will be the ninth in a series of high-speed vessels designed to navigate in shallow coastal regions known as littoral waters. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has cited the $12.4 billion spent for 26 littoral combat ships as the worst example of wasteful Pentagon spending.
The ship’s name also has become a target for conservatives who see it as promoting stricter gun laws, a cause Giffords has promoted. Some critics lampooned the ship as being gun-free, a bit of parody and fake news that was debunked on snopes.com.
The Navy said it chose to name the ship in honor of Giffords because of the perseverance she showed after the shooting.
“Courage comes in many, many forms - physical, mental, spiritual and political. Gabby has truly modeled courage and resilience,” Vice Admiral Philip Cullom said at the christening ceremony.
At the ceremony in 2015, Giffords said she was “proud to support our armed forces” in Congress, CBS Mobile affiliate WKRG reported.
“I love the Navy. I even married a sailor,” she said, with her husband, former astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly, by her side.
Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, said, “Wherever the USS Gabrielle Giffords travels, the world will know it is unrelenting. It is unstoppable. It is the full definition of the patriotism that defines the greatest country in the world.”
Biden broke a ceremonial champagne bottle against the vessel at the christening ceremony last year and served as the sponsor of the ship, according to WKRG.
Constructed from aluminum and featuring a distinctive trimaran design, the Giffords is armed with missiles, machine guns and fast-firing weapons designed to hit a variety of targets. Its normal crew of 40 sailors and officers can be supplemented as needed for missions.
A sister ship of the Giffords, the USS Montgomery, sustained hull damage in October while navigating the Panama Canal. The same ship was damaged in a collision with a tugboat weeks before.