The big splash sends ripples well beyond the water.
When Fincantieri Marinette Marine launched the future USS Billings into the Menominee River last month, the waves of the successful launch didn’t stop at the shoreline. There was a lot more than the launch of the U.S. Navy’s latest warship going on — it was a celebration of the success of one of Wisconsin’s oldest industries and the employees and suppliers across the Midwest that make it possible.
The Billings was the eighth littoral combat ship to slip into the Menominee currents from Fincantieri’s Marinette Marine shipyard for Lockheed Martin.
“(The) launch and christening is a testament to the hard work of the more than 2,500 Michigan and Wisconsin workers who pass through the shipyard’s gates, put on their hard hats and build American warships,” says Jan Allman, Fincantieri Marinette Marine president and CEO.
A total of 26 LCSs have so far been ordered by the Navy under the LCS program, with half the ships — the “Freedom-Variant” — constructed by the Lockheed Martin-led team at Marinette Marine. The other half of the LCS fleet is being built in Mobile, Ala., by Austal.
In addition to four ships already delivered to the Navy, eight ships are under construction at Marinette Marine, including the recently launched Billings. A ninth ship, the future USS Marinette, is currently in long-lead production. Even with the city’s long history of shipbuilding, it will be the first Navy ship to be known as
It seems fitting, though, as Marinette is the only naval shipyard in the Midwest, and its economic impact ripples across the entire country. Not only do 2,500 workers from Wisconsin and Michigan work there, but its supply chain reaches more than 800 firms in 42 states.
Nearly 120 of those suppliers are from Wisconsin, many calling the New North region home.
Throughout the Midwest, LCS construction supports more than 244 suppliers and thousands of direct and indirect jobs, including more than 6,000 in Wisconsin and more than 1,500 in Michigan.
In addition, more than $100 million has been invested in Marinette Marine’s facilities to support the shipbuilding program.
Concerns linger about the future of the littoral combat ship, even as the current round of shipbuilding is expected to last through 2020. While the Navy originally planned for 52 of the ships, former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter recommended reducing that to 40. Defense reviews have questioned its capabilities, and an evaluation team recently suggested the Navy consider moving to a frigate-type vessel with enhanced capabilities.
Lockheed Martin has been quick to defend the capabilities of the LCS, though both Lockheed and Austal have prepared designs to modify the LCS to create a frigate variant.
The Trump administration has advocated expanding the Navy to 350 ships, and both the company and the Navy say the LCS is a cost-effective and flexible vessel that can help achieve that goal.
“The Freedom-Variant LCS plays a critical role in the U.S. Navy’s fleet, and we are committed to getting Billings and her highly capable sister ships into combatant commanders’ hands as quickly as possible,” says Joe North, vice president of Littoral Ships and Systems for Lockhead Martin. “These flexible ships will help the Navy achieve its goals of growing the fleet rapidly and affordably.”