Head Of U.S. Navy Visits Marinette Marine
U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the chief officer of the United States Navy, paid a brief visit to Marinette on Wednesday, July 24 for a briefing and program status update on the Littoral Combat Ship program at the Marinette Marine Corp. shipyard in Marinette.
Adm. Greenert met with Joe North, vice president of littoral ship systems for Lockheed Martin, and Marinette Marine President and CEO Chuck Goddard during the visit, and spoke briefly with local media about the LCS program. He said he was impressed with how changes based on feedback the Navy provided to industry from its crews operating the ships were so quickly incorporated into construction.
Marinette Marine and its defense contracting partner, Lockheed-Martin, are in the midst of a contract with the Navy to build at least 10 more of the Littoral Combat class vessels, and there are hopes the Navy will eventually acquire a total of 50 LCS, with construction split between Marinette Marine and an Alabama shipyard. So far, Marinette Marine constructs the odd-numbered LCS and the even numbered vessels are built in Alabama.
The LCS Freedom, first of its kind, was constructed at Marinette Marine and is currently deployed in Singapore.
The Lockheed Martin-led teams second ship built in Marinette, USS Fort Worth, is completing a scheduled maintenance period in its San Diego home port after being delivered to the Navy two months early.
Lockheed Martin, the Navy and Marinette Marine recently celebrated the keel laying of the future USS Little Rock (LCS 9) at the Marinette shipyard, and construction of Milwaukee (LCS 5), Detroit (LCS 7), Little Rock (LCS 9) and Sioux City (LCS 11) is underway, marking the first time four LCS have ever been under construction at the same time in a single shipyard.
In addition, long-lead construction material is being procured for Wichita (LCS 13) and Billings (LCS 15), two additional LCS slated for construction in Marinette.
Despite objections raised recently by the Government Accountability Board in Washington, Greenert expressed confidence the contract with Marinette Marine will be extended. He said he is comfortable with what has been done, and with the changes being readily incorporated into the LCS design as the need is identified. He also was impressed with the expansion and upgrading of Marinette Marine construction equipment and facilities, and with the modularity and speed of construction, and praised the local workforce, many of whom represent second and third generations of the same family dedicated to making good ships for our sailors.
Greenert said the LCS class vessels are important because they are built in modules, handle significant pay loads, have speed, volume, adaptability, and are able to operate close to shore. These vessels are our future, Greenert said. He expressed thanks to the people in Marinette who partner in what we do.
Questioned about problems with the USS Freedom, Greenert said he had just returned from looking her over in Singapore, while she was in port for repairs. As far as design problems, I didnt see that, Greenert said. He said the weight and stability of the Freedom make her perfect for the work she does. Two large tanks have been added on the sides of the Freedom so she will ride properly in the water, Greenert said.
Greenert said his visit to Marinette was not prompted by concerns over the contracts or the progress of construction. He was impressed that the process at Marinette Marine includes building components which are then incorporated into the vessel, with a process much like an auto assembly line versus building them one by one. Shifts at Marinette Marine are working around the clock to maintain the construction schedule.
Greenert noted in Washington he talks to a lot of people with questions. He had come here to see the operations first-hand and get direct answers in order to better respond to those questions.
The Admiral and his entourage flew in and out of the area via Twin County Airport in Menominee. Greenert noted his last visit to the Marinette ship yard had been in winter, and this is much better.
Goddard declared it was wonderful to have the Chief of Naval Operations at the shipyard, and its great to know he supports the program. He said the goal is to complete two ships a year at the Marinette shipyard, and noted there are four in various stages of production right now.
The immense hull of the Milwaukee, with workers busy on the ground, on work platforms, and on the deck high above, dominated the background while members of the news media were allowed to briefly question Greenert and Marinette Marine officials.
Goddard noted prompt design changes are very important to Greenert, and they are being made. Were going to keep up with the program, and were going to get more ships in here, he declared.
On Tuesday, July 16, U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced that the nations 15th Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) will be the first Navy ship named in honor of Billings (Montana). A Lockheed Martin-led team is to construct the Billings, a Freedom-variant LCS, at the Marinette Marine shipyard starting this fall, with completion scheduled for 2017.
There may be some complications in the optimistic future of the LCS shipbuilding program, however. On Thursday, July 25, the Government Accountability Office recommended slowing down production of the ships, with concerns expressed about performance of the ships and funding for the program. Navy officials at hearings in Washington defended the program, saying the LCS provides vitally important capabilities, and is the key to the future of all naval operations. Navy spokesmen said reliability issues have been identified and fixes are in place as the USS Freedom continues its deployment.
The GAOs recommendation was to keep production of the ships to a minimum rate during the next scheduled purchase in 2016, at least until operational testing is done, but Navy officials disagreed.
Lessons learned from the lead ships have been thoroughly incorporated into the production plan. Lead ship design deficiencies have been corrected and the design is very stable, declared the Hon. Sean Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy.
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