The U.S. Navy officially commissioned it new $525 million, 785-foot warship Saturday at a ceremony ahead of its departure for the western Pacific sometime this summer.
Construction on the expeditionary sea base Miguel Keith took about two years and is set to be permanently foreign-based. Its first base of operations will be in the U.S. commonwealth of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands. A commissioning of a Navy vessel means it has been placed in active service.
The Miguel Keith will hold a crew of roughly 100 sailors and 44 civilian mariners. Its massive size allows it to have a flight deck capable of accommodating the Navy’s largest helicopters, the MH-53, as well as Marine Corps F-35B jets.
At the ceremony on Naval Air Station North Island, Adm. Craig Faller of the U.S. Southern Command said the Miguel Keith could go all over the world in its lifetime, to places such as the Caribbean, South China Sea or the Strait of Hormuz.
He said the crew would be on the front line of global conflict against threats to the United States — particularly China.
“The Chinese Communist Party — with its insidious and corrupt influence — seeks global dominance and to impose its version of international order,” Faller told the crowd of around 100 people. “To continue winning this global competition we must be at the top of our game. We need to keep developing the best technology and the best ships, like you see here today.”
The Miguel Keith was constructed by San Diego-based General Dynamics NASSCO and can travel at more than 9,500 nautical miles at a speed of 15 knots. Its propulsion system is made up of twin screw diesel engines, a medium speed diesel main engine and a 24-megawatt diesel electric plant.
Construction was slowed in July 2018 when a dry dock used for construction at the General Dynamics NASSCO facility flooded.
Expeditionary sea bases, like the Miguel Keith, can be used for a variety of military operations, such as warfare, counter-piracy and humanitarian support. General Dynamics NASSCO was awarded a contract of up to $1.6 million in 2019 to build two more expeditionary sea bases and an option for a third.
The Navy originally intended the ships to operate as Merchant Marine vessels manned by civilians, but in 2020 the service said all expeditionary sea bases will be commissioned as warships — a designation that allows them more flexibility to take an active role in military operations. The Navy’s other expeditionary sea bases have conducted operations off the coast of Africa and in the Middle East.
Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, said at the ceremony that the locally built ship reinforced San Diego’s status as a Navy town.
“The USS Miguel Keith is prepared to meet any challenge in defense of our freedoms,” he said,” just as her namesake.”
The sea base was named after Marine Lance Cpl. Miguel Keith, who was killed in Vietnam 51 years to the day of the commission. The San Antonio native was killed when he was 18 and awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism. He completed his military training at Camp Pendleton.
Military leaders recounted the story several times Saturday of how Keith was wounded with his platoon when they were heavily outnumbered in Quang Ngai Province. They said Keith, a machine gunner, shot at and took out three enemy fighters and dispersed two more while completely exposed to view. He then suffered more wounds when a grenade exploded near him. Despite serious injuries, he again charged the enemy, except this time it was an estimated 25 soldiers. He was killed but has continued to be honored by fellow Marines for his sacrifice and the success of his platoon against enemy fighters.
Keith’s siblings, along with several other family members and friends, attended the commissioning either virtually or in-person. His mother, Eliadora Delores Keith, was made the honorary ship sponsor and delivered a virtual speech.
“I am happy that they still remember him,” she said through tears. “Because I will never forget him. Never, ever.”
Staff writer Andrew Dyer contributed to this report.
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