Saturday, March 19, 2011

USS Decatur, US Destroyer comes calling at Chennai

The bustling Chennai Port has a distinguished visitor – a destroyer of US Navy’s  Arleigh Burke-class.  The vessel named  USS Decatur (DDG 73) is in Chennai, on a 3 day Port visit.  She is  led by Commander Shanti Sethi, an American of Indian descent.  Shanti  Sethi is also the first female commanding officer of a U.S. Navy ship to visit Chennai.

As could be easily deciphered it is a Naval vessel – USS means United States Ship – a commissioned vessel.  It is a destroyer.  Modern cruisers, destroyers and frigates are called Surface combatants and act mainly as escorts for aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships, auxiliaries and civilian craft, but the largest ones have gained a land attack role through the use of cruise missiles and a population defense role through Missile defense.

The need and role of destroyers came to fore with the need for countering a ship that made devastating debut in Chilean civil war in 1891 and in Sino-japanese war of 1894.  That was the torpedo boat which could dash in close to the larger ships and dash away.  As a counter, the torpedo boat destroyer was conceptualised.    US has close to 60 vessels in the class of Arleigh Burke.  These are guided missile destroyers and named after Admiral Arleigh Albert '31-knot' Burke.  The first ship of this  class was commissioned on 4 July 1991. they have  overall length of 510 feet, displacement of 9200 tons, and weaponry including over 90 missiles.  Admiral Burke was an admiral of US Navy with distinguished service during WW II and Korean war.   The ship is equipped with the MK41 Vertical Launching System (VLS) which fires a combination of up to 90 Standard surface-to-air missiles, Tomahawk surface-toland missiles, and Vertically Launched Antisubmarine rockets(ASROC) (VLA); the AN/SQQ-89 Antisubmarine Warfare System with bow-mounted AN/SQS-53C sonar and AN/SQR-19 towed array; and the AN/SQQ-28 LAMPS MK III.

In Chennai  U.S. Ambassador to India Timothy J. Roemer was quoted  “A strong defense relationship is essential to the U.S.-India strategic partnership. Ship visits strengthen our already strong bilateral military relationship and augment the extensive maritime security efforts between our two democracies. They enhance the people-to-people ties that are the bedrock of the global U.S.-India partnership. That the USS Decatur is led by Commander Shanti Sethi, an Indian-American woman, is yet another example of the close bond between the American and Indian people.  Our people to people ties continue to grow and expand in education, business, the arts, intelligence, and in defense.”

The vessel is capable of providing escort capabilities to Navy and Marine Corps amphibious forces, combat logistics ships, and convoys. The port call of USS Decatur to an Indian port comes close on the heels of the USNS Safeguard, a salvage class vessel, which visited Port Blair from January 4-11.

Its  Commander Shanti Sethi is a native of Reno, Nevada. She graduated from Norwich University in 1993 with a degree in International Affairs.  She served on USS Butte and on other vessels.   CDR Sethi’s decorations and awards include the Meritorious Service Medal (two awards), Navy Commendation Medal (four awards), the Navy Achievement Medal, and various unit and campaign award.

She was commissioned on in June 1998 in Bath, Maine.  In April 1999, the warship conducted a short cruise to the Northwest, visiting Decatur Island, Washington, and Vancouver, British Columbia, before returning to San Diego in early May.  In May 2008, she was deployed in the Persian Gulf.

The vessel was named after Stephen Decatur, born  in 1779 and was a great war fighters of US Navy noted for his heroism during Barbary Wars and the War of 1812.  His night raid on Tripoli harbour was described by Admiral Nelson as most bold and daring act of the age.  Incidentally, DDG 73 is not the first ship to carry the name Decatur

The first ship named after Stephen Decatur was a sloop-of-war commissioned in 1839 to protect US interests in the south Atlantic.  The second was DD-5 commissioned in 1902.   the next was DD 341, commissioned in 1922.  Fourth one was DD 936 which took part in Cuban Quarantine Operations.  Then came the present one which was commissioned in 1998. 

The Indian media were taken on board the vessel on a guided tour.  It was described as unprecedented access inside the vessel into  ship’s main command-cum-communication centre, commander’s cabin and gas turbine propulsion systems.  The sailors of the vessel interacted with differently abled kids of Vidya Sagar.  

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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