USS Charleston an easy choice, Navy Secretary says

A poster commemorating the USS Charleston was signed by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, and Medal of Honor recipient retired Marine Maj. Gen. James E. Livingston.

Charleston's maritime tradition makes it a natural to lend its name to one of the Navy's newest warships, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said Friday during an honoring ceremony held alongside Charleston Harbor.

"This city has had an important connection with the American Navy," said Mabus, who was in town to recognize what is now the sixth ship in the U.S. fleet designated with carrying the Charleston name to sea.

The new vessel is one the fleet's group of "littoral ships," fast and agile craft that can operate close to shore for combat duties including mine detection and removal, anti-submarine defenses and addressing hostile surface ships.

It will be built in Mobile, Ala., and is expected to be delivered by December 2017. The ship will run nearly 400 feet in length, with a speed of more than 40 knots. Price tag: $440 million.

As an added bonus, Mabus said he was declaring Charlotte Riley, wife of Mayor Joe Riley, as the ship's sponsor. It means she is an honorary member of the first crew.

Mabus traced the city's maritime history from the 1700s, through the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley and on to the later Charleston Navy Base and Shipyard as evidence the city is worthy of the recognition.

Mayor Riley was credited for making the naming happen by contacting Mabus and promoting the city.

Mabus also indicated the ship had a strong probability of visiting Charleston for commissioning ceremonies when it begins its service.

The Navy's other littoral ships are already in action around the globe. The Fort Worth is currently taking part in the on-going search for wreckage of the recently lost AirAsia plane in the Pacific.

Mabus also mentioned the role of Charleston-based SPAWAR, the Navy's high tech and electronics installation, that is one of the jewels of the military footprint here in terms of jobs. The Pentagon is expected to raise the idea of another round of base closures in its 2016 budget as a cost-saving move and protecting SPAWAR is among the priorities in the community. Congress has worked to fend off previous so-called Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) reviews, because of the economic fallout.

In relation to BRAC, Mabus said the Navy does not have as much "excess capacity as some of our other services." He added "we believe that SPAWAR here provides a critical, critical mission."

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551