The USNS Apalachicola, its name announced to great fanfare two years ago at the Independence Eve celebration, is expected to be launched this November, and be in service by this time next year.
The EPF 13, newest of the Navy’s Expeditionary Fast Transport ships, is now about three-quarters complete as it is being built in Mobile, Alabama by Austal USA., at a total cost, including recent autonomous enhancements, of $275 million.
The late Mayor Kevin Begos traveled January 21 with his mother, Jane Richardson, a Navy veteran, to the keel-laying ceremony in Mobile, the formal recognition of the start of a ship's construction.
In earlier times it was the "laying down" of the central or main timber making up the backbone of a vessel. Today, fabrication of the ship may begin months before and some of the ship's bottom may actually be joined. The ceremony, also referred to as the keel authentication, symbolically recognizes the joining of modular components and the ceremonial beginning of a ship.
“The engineers and welders of this amazing American-made ship are doing great work!” he wrote at the time. “She will be the second ship in naval service named after Apalachicola; the first was a tugboat.”
In what may strike some as contradictory, or perhaps unifying, given the longstanding Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint “water wars” with Georgia, the ship’s sponsor is former Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Her initials were welded into the keel plate as part of the ceremony.
Former Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer made the announcement personally at Apalachicola’s Independence Eve celebration in 2019.
The Secretary of the Navy continues to exercise the prerogative for assigning names to the Navy's ships, a responsibility dating back to March 3, 1819, when an act of Congress formally placed that responsibility into his or her hands.
Congress also specified at that time “the following rule, to wit: those of the first class shall be called after the States of this Union; those of the second class after the rivers; and those of the third class after the principal cities and towns; taking care that no two vessels of the navy shall bear the same name."
The last-cited provision remains in the United States Code today.
On June 10, Austal USA announced that it had been awarded a $44 million contract to develop autonomous capability in the EPF 13, a contract modification for the design, procurement, production implementation and demonstration of autonomous capability on the ship.
The USNS Apalachicola features a 338-foot long aluminum, catamaran style twin hull. It will be powered by four 11,000-horsepower diesel engines that enable a top speed of 43 knots, or close to 50 mph.
The Spearhead-class EPF features a more than 2,100-square-yard cargo deck, medium-lift helicopter deck and seating for 300-plus embarked troops; providing a fast, high-payload transport capability to combatant commanders around the world.
After the planned launch for the EPF 13 in November, it is expected to be delivered by July 2022.
Once commissioned, the USNS Apalachicola will be operated by the Navy’s Military Sealift Command, part of a wide range of missions that range from maritime security operations to humanitarian aid and disaster relief.