NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A U.S. warship that is capable of shooting down ballistic missiles began its journey Tuesday to its new home port in Spain, where it will be the second American ship to permanently relocate under a NATO defense plan.
The guided-missile destroyer USS Ross will be home ported in Rota, Spain, about 60 miles northwest of Gibraltar. The Ross, and the two other destroyers that will join it and the already-relocated USS Donald Cook by the end of next year, are each equipped with the sophisticated Aegis radar system, which enables it to track and shoot down ballistic missiles.
The ships are being forward deployed as part of the Obama administration's four-phase plan to put land- and sea-based radars and interceptors in several European locations over the next decade. The plan was developed in 2009 to protect against a potential Iranian nuclear threat and approved by NATO the following year. Since 2011, the U.S. has been rotating ships equipped with the radar system in and out of Europe from bases in Virginia and Florida. It typically takes 10 to 14 days for a ship leaving the East Coast to travel to Europe.
Keeping four of the ships overseas will allow the Navy to keep a continuous presence in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic Ocean.
"We're working directly for the theater commander in that mission, the ballistic missile defense mission, so we always have to maintain a heightened state of readiness and we have to be a lot more flexible depending what's happening in the theater, so we don't get as much downtime," said Cmdr. Tadd Gorman, the Ross's commanding officer. "It's going to be a pretty high op tempo over there."
The Ross left its home port at Naval Station Norfolk on Tuesday, and was expected to begin making its way toward Spain after making a brief stop at Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, which is also in Virginia.
Rota, Spain, has served as a principal overseas base for the U.S. Navy since the early 1950s. It is already home to a U.S. Navy hospital and U.S. ships regularly stop there while overseas. Crew members aboard the Ross said they were excited for the opportunity to live and travel in Europe.
"I've been to Rota and love it there — absolutely love it there. It took me four days to fall in love with it, but my wife beat me with that, she only took three days. She's been there for about two weeks now setting up shop and finding a home," Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian Beddoes said.
The Norfolk-based USS Porter and the Mayport, Fla.-based USS Carney will move to Spain in 2015.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis .