Following the official opening of the new ship construction facility last November, Austal USA today hosted a traditional US Navy keel-laying ceremony to signify the start of construction on the Navy’s new breed of surface combatant, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).
Whilst the ceremonies have been updated to reflect modern ship construction techniques, Navy tradition dictates that each new ship for the service be honoured on four historic ceremonial occasions: keel-laying, christening (or launching), commissioning and decommissioning.
The object of today’s ceremony is a component in the modular construction arrangement that will form part of a 127 metre aluminium trimaran capable of providing high speeds, multi-mission capability and superior aviation operations. Austal, as the designer and builder of the LCS seaframe, is part of the General Dynamics / Bath Iron Works Team offering the unique trimaran solution for the US Navy’s defence needs.
The ceremony was attended by in excess of 150 high ranking officials from Government, Navy, the State of Alabama and City of Mobile who joined the Austal workforce to mark this historic occasion in the changing nature of naval ship design and construction. Those present included:
• Senator Jeff Sessions (Alabama)
• Captain Donald Babcock (Navy Program Manager for LCS Program)
• Rear Admiral Mark Edwards (Deputy Chief of Naval Operation for Warfare Requirements and Programs)
• The Honorable Dr. M. Delores Etter (Asst. Secretary of the Navy – Research, Development & Acquisition)
• Rear Admiral Charles S. Hamilton (Program Executive Officer for Ships)
• Rear Admiral Michael Nowakowski (Commander, Naval Surface Force, US Atlantic Fleet)
• Rear Admiral Raydon Gates, RAN, (Head of Australian Defence Staff)
• The Honorable Jo Bonner (US Representative for Alabama)
• Mobile County Commissioners Juan Chastang and Mike Dean
• Mobile City Council Members William Carroll and Connie Hudson
Following her principal address, Dr. Delores M. Etter authenticated the keel-laying event via the welding of her initials onto the hull section by Austal Fabricator, James Woods.
“This milestone marks a significant achievement in the LCS program,” said Rear Adm. Charles S. Hamilton, Program Executive Officer for Ships, “The LCS brings our Naval forces the speed, flexibility and capability we need to face the asymmetric threats of the future.”
Representing Austal, Executive Chairman John Rothwell, reflected on the significance to Austal of beginning work on the Littoral Combat Ship, when he spoke during the ceremony,
“From an initial workshop in 1997 at the naval facility in Carderock Maryland, where Austal was invited to discuss potential military uses for high speed vessels, to today’s keel-laying ceremony for the first LCS signifies
a momentous occasion in the history of an Australian shipyard now designing and building the most revolutionary warship for the world’s most powerful navy”.
“Since 1997 some bold decisions and the incredible effort by many have enabled the establishment of the Austal USA shipyard
in Mobile, Alabama, a new facility dedicated to high speed aluminium ship construction, and the recruitment and training of 300 people in order to be prepared for this opportunity”.
The design and construction of the LCS is the culmination of 17 years of continuous development of high speed aluminium technology by Austal. LCS is a clear indication of the benefits of Austal’s successful involvement in commercial and defence markets – swiftly transitioning proven commercial technology to provide key defence capability”.
Addressing the audience on behalf of the US Government, Senator Jeff Sessions commented,
“Today marks an important milestone as the U.S. Navy embarks on the construction of a new vessel that will carry it to the littorals worldwide. The General Dynamics - Austal partnership returns to Alabama the finest elements of advanced shipbuilding, and I am immensely pleased that we in Alabama are part of this new endeavor.”
LCS 2, due for delivery in late 2007, has a flight deck larger than any other surface combatant that will support near-simultaneous operation of two large MH-60R/S helicopters or multiple unmanned vehicles. LCS 2 will also provide one of the largest useable payload volumes of any U.S. Navy surface combatant and deliver greater payload per displacement ton than any ship of comparable displacement.