NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — The USS Kauffman is about to become the last of its breed.
When the ship leaves Naval Station Norfolk on Thursday for a six month deployment to the waters off Central America, it will mark the final deployment of a Navy frigate. The Kauffman will be part of a multinational, counter-narcotics operation known as Operation Martillo.
When the warship returns, it will be the last frigate in the Navy's inventory to be decommissioned later this fall. The Navy built 51 of the ships, with the first going into service in 1977. Several frigates — vessels smaller than a destroyer, used chiefly for escort duty — were recently decommissioned and designated for sale to foreign militaries.
"A lot of sailors have served on this platform, so it's very (humbling) to be the last sitting CO of the last frigate that's going to be in commission. The crew's very proud," said Cmdr. Michael Concannon, the Kauffman's commanding officer.
The Oliver Hazard Perry-class of frigates were designed during the Cold War to protect ships at sea and conduct anti-submarine warfare. Over time, their mission evolved to include mine warfare, counter-piracy and counter-narcotics operations.
"We're excited to go down and do our mission, to do our deployment. We're equally excited to be the last frigate in commission and to honor the memories of all the sailors that have served on this class of ship in the past," Concannon told reporters aboard the ship.
Naval Surface Atlantic said it has five East Coast-based frigates awaiting decommissioning ceremonies, which begin this month. Figures were not immediately available Tuesday for West Coast-based frigates. The ships are home ported in Norfolk; Mayport, Florida; San Diego and Everett, Washington.
The Navy plans to use littoral combat ships, joint high-speed vessels and afloat forward staging bases to replace some of the frigate's capabilities. Littoral combat ships are designed to travel in the shallow, littoral area close to shore.
The Navy is also designing a new small surface combatant ship after problems arose with the littoral combat ship. The Navy originally planned to build 52 of the ships, which are designed to be faster, more versatile and operate closer to shore than larger warships to head off threats against submarines and fast surface craft, among other things.
But the ship was faulted by many critics who questioned its survivability in battle, and the Defense Department cut its order to 32. The Navy plans to buy 20 of the upgraded surface combatant ship that's in the works.
Production of the new ship is scheduled to begin no later than 2019.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis