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Work begins on Coast Guard cutter named for legendary codebreaker who helped create NSA

Elizebeth S. Friedman, cryptanalyst, and pioneer in U.S. cryptology. (NSA/Released)

Ingalls Shipbuilding has begun work on its latest National Security Cutter — the Legend-class Friedman (NSC 11).

The Pascagoula shipyard announced Tuesday it had begun fabrication on NSC 11, signifying the first 100 tons of steel for the ship have been cut.

“Our workforce has invested more than a decade of effort, creativity and resolve to make the Legend-class national security cutter production line incredibly efficient and strong,” said Ingalls president Kari Wilkinson. “We are pleased to achieve this milestone and will continue to look for any additional opportunity in our processes and approaches to provide the most affordable and capable ships to our customers.”

NSC 11 is named in honor of Elizebeth Smith Friedman. Although not widely known to the public, Friedman spent much of her life as a codebreaker, aiding the Coast Guard during the Prohibition Era and the U.S. military during World War II. Her work helped lay the foundations of cryptology and the establishment of the U.S. National Security Agency.

During the Prohibition Era, bootleggers and smugglers used encoded radio messages to avoid law enforcement. Friedman, working for the USCG, Bureau of Narcotics, Internal Revenue Service, Bureau of Prohibition and Customs and the Department of Justice, Friedman solved over 12,000 encoded messages in three years.

One of the criminals she helped indict was Al Capone.

During WWII, Friedman’s Coast Guard unit was transferred to the U.S. Navy. Over the course of the war, her team decoded 4,000 messages sent via 48 different radio circuits. Friedman died in 1980 at the age of 88. Her ashes were spread over her husband’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Legend-class NSC is the most technologically advanced ship in the Coast Guard’s fleet, which enables it to meet the high demands required for maritime and homeland security, law enforcement, marine safety, environmental protection and national defense missions.

NSCs are 418 feet long with a top speed of 28 knots, a range of 12,000 miles, an endurance of 60 days and a crew of 120.

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