JACKSON, Miss. -- When the USS Cole returns to the naval fleet Friday, it will re-enter service with 550 tons of new steel, an upgraded combat system and a few hundred eager sailors.
The guided missile destroyer, heavily damaged in an October 2000 terrorist attack that killed 17 seamen, has undergone 14 months of repairs at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems' Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula.
The ship will leave South Mississippi on Friday en route to its homeport in Norfolk, Va. Ingalls and the Navy will mark the departure with a ceremony at the shipyard.
"It's been a long time coming," said Cmdr. Kevin Sweeney, who took charge of the destroyer last year.
The Cole was ripped open by a terrorist bomb Oct. 12, 2000, in the port of Aden, in Yemen. The attack was carried out by terrorists who pulled an explosives-laden skiff alongside the destroyer as it refueled.
Bomb damage was so extensive that the Cole had to be returned to the United States aboard the Norwegian heavy-lift ship Blue Marlin. It arrived at Ingalls on Dec. 13, 2000.
The repairs and upgrades include two new, 27-ton main engines and 350,163 feet of electrical cable. Sea trials took place over three days last week.
The Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington says it expects the final tab to be some $250 million -- about one-quarter the ship's original cost.
The Cole, built at Ingalls and christened at the shipyard in 1995, is equipped with the Aegis combat system, which can track 100 or more targets simultaneously and is capable of anti-air, anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare.
Because Ingalls handles and installs sophisticated defense systems for the U.S. Navy, security always is tight at the shipyard, Mississippi's largest private employer with 10,000 workers.
Since Sept. 11, those safeguards have increased. Coast Guard boats have conducted security patrols around the Cole and enforced safety zones along port areas.
The Cole was never decommissioned, so it had the additional security of 20 to 25 sailors assigned to the ship during repairs.
The entire crew began moving aboard in February and March.
"We took extra precautions on the Cole for all the obvious reasons," said Ingalls spokesman Den Knecht. "One being the fact that it's certainly a high-profile ship."