The Greenbay Press Gazette: New Navy combat ship, USS Fort Worth, christened at Marinette Marine
By Nathan Phelps
MARINETTE — With a thud that could be felt through the ground, the newly christened Fort Worth hit the Menominee River on Saturday as the warship was launched at Marinette Marine Corp.
This is the second littoral combat ship Marinette Marine has built for the Navy. Marinette Marine and an Alabama shipyard could each build 10 more ships if Congress approves a wording change allowing the service to buy 20 of the ships from two different builders.
If that happens, Marinette Marine could see employment double to about 2,000 workers in the summer of 2013.
Lockheed Martin officials, Navy officials and legislators say they are working with Congress to get that change approved as soon as possible.
"We'll continue to work with the members of Congress," said Sean Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. "We've been able to build their confidence that this is the right thing to do. We're working on this every day. This has been a top priority of the Navy, and Congress has been very open to sitting down with us and going through the details."
He was among dozens of military, political and industry leaders at the launch ceremony.
Stackley said a bill has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to approve the dual purchase option.
Both Lockheed Martin — which is leading the littoral combat ship team that includes Marinette Marine — and Austal USA — which is leading the team that includes the Alabama shipyard — are in line for the potential award of a contract to build 10 ships of each design, pending congressional approval of a wording change that will allow the Navy to purchase those designs.
The ships have been capped at $480 million each, and the two-purchase plan proposed by the Navy doesn't require the allocation of additional money.
Stackley said the dual-purchase option leads to a savings of about $2.9 billion, which allows the service to purchase additional ships.
The dual-purchase proposal is a change from the summer when it appeared only one builder would land the contract. The Navy said last month it's still possible only one contract will be awarded, but politicians and company officials say they are hopeful the two-contract option will be approved by the middle of the month — which has been seen as the deadline for a decision.
U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the ship's sponsor, said Congress should approve the change.
"I certainly hope it happens," she said after christening the vessel. "Those that are aware of this are moving, so I'm very hopeful that it will occur."
Joe North, Lockheed Martin's LCS program manager, said the company is hopeful Congress will make the needed change.
"Right now we're just waiting on Congress being able to act on that in the next few weeks," he said. "We're hopeful we'll have (the approved change) by the end of the year, if not, in early January."
He said the numbers in the contract Lockheed Martin submitted to the Navy will be good through the end of the year.
The littoral combat ship program could see as many as 55 ships built in the coming decades, and even the award of 10 ships to Lockheed Martin and Austal USA is expected to create thousands of jobs — both direct and indirect — at the Marinette and Alabama shipyards and in the surrounding communities.
The littoral combat ship is designed to operate in shallow water and has the ability to change mission capabilities — counter mine, anti-submarine and surface warfare — in a matter of days through an interchangeable modular system.
The Fort Worth can operate in less than 20 feet of water and at speeds exceeding 46 mph, according to the Navy.
"We think there is operation flexibility to be gained by having two different ship types in the fleet," Rear Adm. Frank Pandolfe said after the launch.
When the Fort Worth enters service in 2012, it is expected to based in San Diego, Calif., according to the Navy.