First Line Of Homeland Defense Being Built In South Mississippi

The military's newest weapon in the war on terror is taking shape in South Mississippi. Northrop Grumman's Pascagoula Shipyard is building eight new cutters for the U.S. Coast Guard's modernization program called "Deepwater."

The new national security cutters are the largest vessels designed to replace the aging ships now in use.

A keel laying ceremony Tuesday was the first symbolic step in readying the Coast Guard's hardware for its new role in Homeland Security.

Meryl Chertoff signed her initials on the keel of the first National Security Cutter to be built in Pascagoula. Chertoff is the wife of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

"The families living in those coastal, and indeed throughout the United States, will be able to rest a little easier knowing that while their children sleep, they will be guarded by the men and women who will be running missions on this ship," said Meryl Chertoff.

This ship will bring the Coast Guard fleet into the future. The Deep Water Program vessels will modernize the Coast Guard's 30 year old fleet. The new cutters will have top of the line communications and tracking equipment, as well as the latest short and long range weapons.

"The National Security Cutter is designed to be the flagship of the Coast Guard fleet," said Senator Thad Cochran. "It features helicopters, inflatable boats and secure communications."

Since September 11th, America has faced a new threat. Senator Trent Lott says the men and women guarding our shores deserve the best weapons to do their jobs.

"We've got to make sure we have what we need to protect our shores, defend our shores, our ports and our harbors," said Senator Trent Lott.

Part of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff's job is overseeing the Coast Guard.

"That is protecting our nation against the threat of terrorism," says Chertoff. "Terrorism which may come from the sea, as it came from the air."

The keel of the cutter, may not look too impressive right now, but by the summer of 2007 it will be the foundation of the Coast Guard's most valuable weapon in the war on terror.