Contractor Lockheed Martin has sent the newest Littoral Combat Ship into the water for the first time, launching the soon-to-be USS Billings as the newest "Freedom-class" LCS.
The controversial LCS ships come in two flavors; Lockheed Martin's Freedom class and the unorthodox trimaran-hull Independence class from Austal USA.
The LCS was designed to provide smaller, cheaper, more maneuverable ships for close-to-shore duty in littoral waters where the Navy's "blue water" destroyers, cruisers and frigates would be vulnerable.
Critics complain, however, that the LCS ships lack needed capability, an issue that is increasingly pressing as the post-post-cold war order is looking more like the bigger ships are needed.
Nevertheless, the Navy still has plenty of "brown water" missions for the LCS ships, such as deploying manned and unmanned vehicles and sensors in support of mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare and surface warfare missions.
"The christening of the future USS Billings brings this great warship one step closer to joining the fleet, where it will, for decades to come, serve as a tribute to the great people of Billings and the state of Montana, as well as the highly skilled men and women who built our nation's newest littoral combat ship," said the Honorable Sean Stackley, acting Secretary of the Navy.
The core crew of the Billings will be 50 sailors, but it can carry as many as 98, depending on the mission. The Freedom class uses a steel semi-planing hull with an aluminum superstructure.
While the trimaran design of the Independence class looks exotic, the Freedom's conventional-looking monohull is based on the design of the speed record-setting yacht Destriero. It uses a Kawasaki Jet Ski-type steerable water jet propulsion system for speed and agility.
Billings' combined gas turbine and diesel generator power system can blast this super-sized Jet Ski to a top speed of 54 mph. While this is cool, earlier Freedom-class ships, USS Milwaukee and USS Fort Worth suffered problems with the gears between the two combined power sources and had to be towed back to port.
These problem are said to be solved, so once it is commissioned, the USS Billings should be ready to roll up its figurative sleeves and do the Navy's less-glamorous brown water chores.