Ten years ago, work began on the first of a new breed of naval vessel, the Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship. For the last 18-months, workers at a Wisconsin shipyard have worked to assemble the U.S.S. Sioux City, and her sister ships, which are the latest in the Freedom line.
KTIV's Matt Breen was allowed rare access to the shipbuilding process, and to see the U.S.S. Sioux City up close.
Longer than a football field, and tipping the scales at nearly 8-million pounds, the U.S.S. Sioux City towers over our cameras inside the assembly building at Marinette Marine, in Marinette, Wisconsin. It has taken eighteen months to get this far.
The ship starts as flat plates of steel. Those plates are blasted to remove any oxidation before being cut into pieces by a plasma cutter. "They take a piece of steel, and do what's called 'nesting', said Nate Millsap, Marinette Marine. "They've determined how many pieces they can cut out of a piece of steel, and cut out a pattern." Nothing is wasted.
Once the steel is brought in, and cut, some pieces are welded together to form three dimensional 'modules' that are assembled on the ship. They're lined up like slices of bread in a loaf.
Three ships are already in the water at Marinette Marine: U.S.S. Detroit, U.S.S. Little Rock, and U.S.S. Milwaukee. Right now, the commander of the U.S.S. Sioux City, and his crew are training aboard the U.S.S. Milwaukee. Commander Kevin Ralston says he can't wait to step on to his own ship. "This is gonna be a special platform," said CDR Kevin Ralston. "We're going to be able to do a lot with it. We're going to find special things that this ship is capable of doing."
Before leaving port, the U.S.S. Sioux City, and the others in the LCS line, will already have an advantage. They can sail in shallower waters than most Navy ships. That's because the LCS doesn't have a traditional propeller, or rudder. It's has directional thrusters that use water for propulsion. The U.S.S. Sioux City's navigator, Lt. Ida Quigley, says think of an LCS like a jet ski. "There are no propellers, no rudders in that sense," said Lt. Ida Quigley, U.S. Navy. "It's all water jet propulsion."
At Lt. Quigley's station on the bridge are two "combinators". They control the direction, and speed, of the water pushing the ship forward. "Here you're using this to laterally move the ship, " Lt. Quigley said. "So, it can literally walk off the pier by using the different thrusters."
For now, Quigley, and Ralston, train aboard the Milwaukee, which is virtually identical to the Sioux City. But, both anticipate the day their crew can serve the Navy on the high seas aboard the U.S.S. Sioux City with an entire city supporting them.
The USS Sioux City is set to be christened in either December of this year, or January of 2016, before it begins its sea trials.
The Littoral Combat Ships actually launch when they're only about 80-percent complete. Like the U.S.S. Milwaukee, work is done to the ship while on the water, at Marinette Marine, and before their sea trials.