Profile of USS Cole

A bigger ship wouldn’t have had a chance against the USS Cole.

In battle, its weaponry was designed to take on squads of enemy aircraft, submarines and missiles.

Enemy radar might have mistaken its stealthy image for a fishing boat.

But it was a tiny bomb-laden, possibly rubber boat — which appeared to be on a routine mooring operation — that proved the toughest match for the 505-foot Arleigh-Burke-class guided-missile destroyer and her crew of 350 highly trained Naval men and women.

Advanced Navy Ship

The massive but speedy $1 billion USS Cole, powered by four jet engines similar to those used in airliners, is one of the Navy’s most advanced warships, built around the high-tech Aegis combat system, which employs the latest anti-aircraft and anti-submarine technology.

It carries batteries of anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, a cannon that can launch five-inch shells more than 10 miles and two Gatling guns that each can fire 50 bullets a second.

Adm. Vernon Clark, chief of naval operations, said the ship’s hull varies in thickness but is covered with half-inch steel at the waterline that is capable of withstanding 51,000 pounds per square inch where the powerful explosion ripped it open.

Mission Is to Defend

The destroyer’s “vital spaces” are protected by 70 tons of armor, according to Jane’s Fighting Ships. Most of its exterior walls are slanted so they are less easily detected by enemy radar. With that and added anti-radar protection, it casts a tiny image on enemy screens.

The primary mission of the USS Cole is to defend some the Navy’s biggest ships in aircraft carrier battle groups against multiple air, surface and submarine attacks.

It was blown open in the Yemen port of Aden early Thursday by one of the smallest crafts on the water. U.S. authorities were investigating, but an early eyewitness account from an Army major who works at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen described the attacking vessel as a small rubber boat.

The destroyer, based at Norfolk, Va., is assigned to the USS George Washington battle group now operating in the Persian Gulf region. The ship commanded by Cmdr. Kirk S. Lippold left Norfolk in June for a six-month deployment. It has a top speed of more than 33 mph.

Named for the mythical shield of Zeus, the Aegis system is a suite of computer-linked radar and weaponry.

Unlike the standard radar with a rotating wand, Aegis’s SPY-1D phased-array radar sends out a blizzard of impulses to create a digitized image of an operational area on large blue screens. Its computers can identify incoming enemy missiles or aircraft as far as 200 miles away.

Commissioned in 1996, the Cole was named Sgt. Darrell S. Cole of Flat River, Mo., a U.S. Marine hero killed at Iwo Jima the day 30,000 landed, Feb. 19, 1945. Its motto: “Determined Warrior.”

Following an ancient shipbuilding tradition, the ultramodern Cole reportedly carries coins embedded in its mast by Cole relatives: 67 cents for its hull number, including 1920 and 1945 quarters for the years its namesake was born and died.

Tradition says the coins will ensure payment of the crew for the voyage home in the event of mishap.