By Associated Press
MARINETTE, Wis. (AP) — A new warship designed to conduct combat just off an enemy's shore was christened in northeast Wisconsin on Saturday, then launched into the Menominee River with a tremendous splash and a ground-moving thud.
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Texas christened the ship, named the Fort Worth, in the time-honored tradition: smashing a bottle of champagne across its bow. The U.S. Navy named the littoral combat ship after the Texas city to honor its long history of supporting the armed forces.
The 389-foot ship, which will be called the USS Fort Worth when it's officially commissioned, is a new class of speedy warship. It was built in Wisconsin, and lawmakers said the Navy could soon request several more in projects that would create hundreds of jobs.
The Fort Worth can operate in waters as shallow as 20 feet and reach speeds topping 46 mph, according the Navy. It could be used to hunt submarines and pirates, defend ground troops and support unmanned aerial vehicles, such as Predator drones.
Littoral combat ships also are designed for quick modification rather than a single purpose. For example, a ship's anti-submarine package could be swapped for a mine-warfare package if combat conditions change.
The Fort Worth was built at the Marinette Marine Corp. shipyard in Marinette, Wis., in conjunction with defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp.
The Fort Worth still has to undergo outfitting and testing. The Navy says it should enter service in 2012, and will likely be based in San Diego.
The warship is the second littoral combat ship that Marinette Marine has built for the Navy. More orders could be on the way. U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin said production costs for littoral combat ships have come down so much that the Navy wants to double its planned orders from shipbuilders in Wisconsin and Alabama.
The Navy had planned to award a single contract for 10 ships to either Marinette Marine or Austal USA in Mobile, Ala. Kohl said last month that the Navy now wants to order 10 ships from each company. But the change would require congressional approval.
Marinette Marine has estimated that a contract could lead to an additional 800 to 1,800 jobs. About 500 of those jobs would likely go to Michigan residents who live near Marinette, a city in Wisconsin near the states' border.
A contract for Austal could add almost 2,000 jobs in south Alabama for the company and related suppliers.
If Congress doesn't approve the request to submit two orders for 20 ships, the Navy has said it would revert to awarding a single contract for 10 ships.
Granger said she was optimistic that lawmakers would see the need for the enhanced order.
"I certainly hope it happens," the Republican congresswoman said after christening the Fort Worth. "Those that are aware of this are moving, so I'm very hopeful that it will occur."