Future USS Wichita launched amid concerns over LCS program

Photo: Lockheed Martin
Photo: Lockheed Martin

MARINETTE, Wis. (WBAY) – Fincantieri Marinette Marine has launched its seventh littoral combat ship built for the US Navy.

The future USS Wichita hit the waters of the Menominee River on Saturday morning. The LCS 13 was christened and launched with strong backing from some Wisconsin lawmakers.

The Navy isn’t denying some of the much-publicized troubles the vessels have had while deployed and in trails since December, but all eyes seem to be on the future.

“We understand that there’s going to be some bumps on the way, but we’re confident in the systems and this shipyard,” said Cmdr. Tyrone Bush, prospective executive officer of the USS Wichita. “I mean, look at the ship, she looks awesome.”

All three littoral combat ships delivered to the Navy from Marinette have suffered setbacks since leaving Wisconsin. Last December, the USS Milwaukee suffered an engineering casualty during its journey to California.  In January, the USS Fort Worth’s engine was damaged while out in Singapore. In mid-July, the USS Freedom sustained damage to its diesel propulsion systems during Navy exercises when seawater got into an engine system.

The engine failures and problems caused by crew members have placed a spotlight on the entire LCS program.

U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wisconsin) says the problems with the LCS program aren’t so much the ships themselves, but with all the new technology, there’s a gap in training.

“There’s a technology gap there, and so they’re getting their sailors up to speed, make sure that they don’t have problems with these ships, because it’s not in the ship, it’s in the operation,” Ribble said.

The Navy has changed its plans for the ships — how and when they will be used. Leaders with Lockheed Martin, the company contracted to design the ships, say all they can control is what they supply to the Navy.

“We’ve been adding increased capability to these ships as we go, and we just got to keep coming out with the quality that allows the fleet to take them and deploy them as quick as they can,” said Joe North, Lockheed Martin Cyber, Ships & Advanced Technologies.

The man who will be at the helm of the USS Wichita says he just wants to get the ship out to sea.

“When I look at the Wichita, I see my sailors on board, and I just see them working hard,” Cmdr. Bush said. “We’re just looking forward to learning the ship and learning how to fight her.”

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