By Chris Vaughn
MARINETTE, Wisc. -- Twenty-seven years in the Navy, and even Capt. T.D. Smyers had never seen anything like it.
Just seconds after a resounding thunk of a champagne bottle striking the bow of the USS Fort Worth, a strike delivered left-handed and low by U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, the ship slid down its elevated pierside moorings and hit the water for the first time, listing heavily to starboard before righting just as designed.
"That was extremely cool," said Smyers, commander of Naval Air Station Fort Worth and an aviator unaccustomed to the traditions of the ship side of the Navy. "To have all these people of Fort Worth come to frigid Wisconsin brings both the Navy and the city closer together at a crucial time in both of their histories. This has brought them together in a way never done before."
He's right: 151 years of Fort Worth and 235 years of the U.S. Navy, and Saturday's christening ceremony of the USS Fort Worth at the Marinette Marine shipyards marked a first for both.
"I have learned just how much pride there is in our city that we have come to be a part of the United States Navy fleet," said Mayor Mike Moncrief, who attended the christening with about 60 civic and business leaders. "This ship will not only sail with the city's name, it will sail with our prayers for all those who serve our country and their families."
The littoral combat ship, 113 feet keel-to-mast and 389 feet long, is only the third of its kind and represents what Navy Rear Adm. David H. Lewis described as a "seminal shift" in building combat ships.
For 400 years, navies have built ships around weapons, he said, but the "littoral combat ship changes all that." The littoral combat ships were designed for speed, agility and flexibility, allowing crews to change weapons and mission packages within a day, depending on whether the mission is anti-piracy, anti-submarine or mine clearing.
Because they can operate in water 20 feet deep, the ships also provide the Navy an option in coastal areas it doesn't currently have with its larger blue-water vessels. Indeed, the ship was launched into the Menominee River, which feeds into Green Bay and Lake Michigan.
Built in Marinette by a Lockheed Martin-led contracting team, the ship technically won't become the USS Fort Worth until its commissioning in 2012. But it was already referred to as "Fort Worth" by Saturday's speakers, a blend of naval officials and representatives of Texas, Wisconsin and Michigan and the defense contractors.
Besides the Lockheed Martin team, a General Dynamics team is building a differently designed littoral combat ship.
Fort Worth resident and former Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who pushed for the creation of the ships as Navy secretary after 9/11, said that the ship represented close to 10 years of work for him.
"For me personally, this is the culmination of a long journey," England said.
After the first two littoral combat ships were under construction, the USS Freedom and USS Independence, the Navy canceled future contracts because of spiraling costs and delays. Granger wasn't sure Fort Worth would get a ship named after the city after all.
But Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley said the Lockheed Martin team and the General Dynamics team were able to bring down costs, and the program was revived. The Navy, pleased with what the first two ships were doing in testing and on deployments, wants Congress to give it permission to buy 10 ships from each company, but it needs the go-ahead by mid-December. Stackley said buying 10 from each company would save the Defense Department $2.9 billion over the life of the deal.
"We are working this every day on the Hill," Stackley said. "This deal saves the Department of Defense and the taxpayers significant dollars."
For the Fort Worth crowd, though, they didn't come for any long-term deal-making. This was about now.
Granger, the ship's sponsor, by tradition always a woman, said the city was particularly proud because of its lasting relationship with the military, dating to Maj. Ripley Arnold's arrival with the 2nd Dragoons in the late 1840s.
The future USS Fort Worth, as numerous naval officers noted, is nothing if not fast. It is powered by two diesel engines and two gas turbines that produce in excess of 100,000 horsepower that give her the ability to go from a standstill to 40 knots in a bit over a minute.
It doesn't have a propeller; instead, it uses water jets that enable it to maneuver more quickly, said Joe North, director of the LCS program for Lockheed Martin.
"It's easily the fastest surface combatant ship in the Navy today," North said. "This ship will keep up with a 'go-fast boat' and with its size, people won't know what to do about it."
Because the Navy wanted to man the ship with a crew of only 40, vastly smaller than a destroyer's crew of about 250, many jobs on the ship fall to automation. For instance, the engine rooms are unmanned, and the bridge can operate with only three people.
That's a fraction of the number of people required on the bridge of most Navy ships, but that's just because most Navy ships were built many years ago, North said.
"Technology leaped way ahead of the Navy in the last few years," he said. "We just took the automation technology off the shelf and used in the commercial world and brought it to Navy ships."
To help the crew evaluate what is going on in the unmanned areas, more than 75 cameras are aboard, and multiple automated firefighting systems were installed.
Having a small crew also means that sailors have a bit more personal privacy than aboard larger ships. The largest stateroom on the vessel, for the most junior sailors, holds eight people.
As is custom on Navy ships, there are separate ward rooms for officers, chief petty officers and junior sailors to eat, but they are all next to each other and are staffed minimally with cooks and servers.
"Everybody gets their own food and cleans their own trays, including the commander," North said.
Senior Chief Richard Henson, the ranking enlisted sailor on the "blue crew" and a 23-year veteran of the Navy, said the sailors selected for the ship are excited about the opportunities and responsibilities of being in a small crew.
"The diversity of the work is very appealing," Henson said. "We're going to have sailors who are the sole experts in their field in several areas. Traditional sailors don't get that opportunity. But part of that means you have more work to do. Every sailor is vitally important. With a crew of 40 people, we don't do 39. We need all 40 all the time."
The ship will begin sea trials in the coming months, first on the Great Lakes, then in one of the oceans. After her commissioning in 2012, she will be homeported in San Diego.
Read more: http://www.star-telegram.com/2010/12/04/2679490/fort-worths-own-combat-ship-christened.html#ixzz17GFS4P4M
In: News, Arts and Entertainment
Tags: USS Fort Worth, U.S. Navy, Marinette Marine, littoral combat ship, Rep. Kay Granger, Naval Air Station Fort Worth,
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