A naval program that has become a target for critics is preparing to commission a new vessel named after a well-known shooting survivor. The USS Gabrielle Giffords, constructed by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., has completed testing in the Gulf of Mexico and is scheduled to be commissioned in mid-2017, the AP reports. The company handed over the $475 million ship to the Navy on Friday. Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was shot during a 2011 assassination attempt, helped christen the ship in 2015. 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. 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.
Arizona Sen. John McCain 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. 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 Adm. Philip Cullom said at the christening ceremony. 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.