The future USS Billings has a big day on Saturday, July 1, 2017, with its christening and launch ceremony at its shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin. It will be the first ship commissioned by the U.S. Navy to have been named for Montana’s largest city.
However, this combat ship will carry more than just the name of Billings. It will also contain something of a time capsule with mementos from its namesake city.
“One of the key ceremonies before we actually launch is called the mast stepping ceremony," says Lockheed Martin spokesman John Torrisi. “And we have a cylinder that is essentially welded to the mast and stays with the ship its whole life.”
The christening on July 1 will be handled by Sharla Tester, wife of Montana Democratic US Senator Jon Tester. The Secretary of the Navy extended the invitation to her nearly two years ago, a role most often filled by a woman.
“The sponsor has a number of roles throughout the life of a ship,” Torrisi says. “But if you want to think of it as she is kind of the caretaker of the ship. So the first call the ship’s commander will make is to the ship sponsor.”
Sharla Tester was present at the laying of the keel in November 2015. In addition, she will break a bottle of
champagne against the bow just before the ship enters the water. The launch will be on her side into the Menominee River, a method most often used when the body of water does not allow the ship to be launched lengthwise. Torrisi says the launch will take about seven seconds.
The future USS Billings is a new classification of ship, the Freedom Variant Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). It replaces three ship classes: frigates, patrol vessels, and mine countermeasures.
Neil King is a director with Lockheed Martin responsible for future programs. He says the LCS is designed from the keel up to operate close to shore.
"It provides high speeds and shallow draft capabilities so you can get to a lot of places that the US Navy could not get to in the past,” says King. “It is modular and reconfigurable in an attempt to keep it affordable and the costs of the ships down. And they also provide minimally manning concepts such that there are not a lot sailors required to operate this high tech ship.”
Although the future USS Billings will be launched July 1, it still has some 18 to 24 months of outfitting and testing before delivered to the U.S. Navy and commissioned.