Keel Laying of LCS 6

10/19/2012: Keel Laying of LCS 6
By Robbin Laird

I am visiting the Gulf Coast and starting with the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) and Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) at Austal and will be travelling to the Ingalls Huntington shipyard for the christening of the USS America.

Austal is a new shipyard and I will be reporting on its manufacturing approach as well as the two new ships with which it is involved shortly.

But on October 18, 2012, the “keel” was layed for the latest LCS ship the Jackson, named for Jackson Mississippi as well as for that ornery General who once turned his guns on his own soldiers to make sure that they remained to fight.

One can hope that the crew of the Jackson will be as nasty as this when confronted the dangerous global littoral bad guys.

Indeed, I met and discussed with the first crew member of the Jackson as well as  propulsion operator from the LCS Coronado and did a brief interview with these two young Navy  members, the folks who will be enabled by the new equipment and make the USN strong in the years to come.

I will publish that interview shortly as well.The most amusing part of the ceremony was when the Navy representative noted that laying a keel for a modular vessel was a bit of an anomaly.  So absent a keel, a master welder and the ship’s sponsor carved her initials on a component of the ship that will be built into the ship and carry the memories of the “keel laying” ceremony forward into battle.

The photos show various moments of the keel laying ceremony.

[slidepress gallery=’keel-laying-of-lcs-6′]

Credit: SLD: 2012

The first photo identifies the site; the second shows the acting President of Austal; the third shows the ship’s welder who marked the initials of the sponsor onto the ship; the fourth shows the Navy representative; the fifth  shows the ship’s sponsor; the sixth shows the moment of welding; and finally the ship to date is shown from the side.

Additional information has been provided by first Austal and then the Mobile Register.

Austal held a keel-laying ceremony today for the third Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) – Jackson (LCS 6), one of five Austal-designed 127-metre US Navy Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ships under contract with the US Navy. Dr. Katherine Holmes Cochran, the ship’s sponsor, was present to weld her initials onto the keel plate as the Keel Authenticator. She was assisted by J.B. Craig, III, who is an “A” Class welder that has been part of the Austal team since November of 2011.

Dr. Cochran is the daughter of US Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and his wife Rose Clayton Cochran. She was born in Jackson, Miss., and received her Ph.D. in English from the University of Mississippi. She is currently an associate professor at the University of Southern Mississippi where she directs the English Licensure Program, works with the South Mississippi Writing Project, and teaches courses in southern literature. In 1991, Dr. Cochran served as the maid of honor as her mother sponsored the USS Barry (DDG 52).

Senator Cochran is a native of Pontotoc, Miss., and is currently serving his sixth term in office as a US Senator. After graduating from the University of Mississippi, he was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve. He served on USS Macon, a heavy cruiser, and became the ship’s legal officer after graduating as an honor student from the US Navy School of Justice in Newport, Rhode Island. He also taught military law and naval orientation at the Officer Candidate School in Newport at which time he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in the US Naval Reserve. Senator Cochran is a member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee where he has worked successfully to support the Navy’s shipbuilding programs.

A traditional keel-laying ceremony marks the first significant milestone in the construction of the ship. Due to Austal’s modular approach to ship manufacture, 35 of the 37 modules used to form this 127-metre aluminum trimaran design are already being assembled. For Austal, keel-laying marks the beginning of final assembly. Four modules have been moved from Austal’s Module Manufacturing Facility (MMF), three of which are erected in the final assembly bay in their pre-launch position. The rest will follow over the coming months.

“Jackson (LCS 6) is the first of ten Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ships awarded by the Navy to Austal as prime contractor,” stated Craig Perciavalle, Austal USA’s Senior Vice President of Operations.

Austal, Navy and elected officials this morning in Mobile marked a major milestone in the life of the third Littoral Combat Ship Austal is building for the Navy.

Austal hosted the traditional keel-laying ceremony for the USS Jackson (LCS 6), that culminated in Katherine Holmes Cochran, daughter of Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), welding her initials into an aluminum panel that will become part of the vessel.

Austal employees were among the about 80 people who gathered in the large assembly building to listen to Austal Interim President Brian Leathers deliver a speech about the vessel and the program. The ceremony took place at the base of the massive aluminum structure, consisting of five modules forming one of the vessel’s three hulls.

Austal officials said 25 percent of the ship has been completed and it is expected to be delivered to the Navy in 2014.

LCSs are designed for minesweeping, submarine-hunting, anti-piracy efforts and special forces operations. Austal secured a 10-ship, $3.8 billion deal to build LCSs from the U.S. Navy in December 2010.

In addition to LCSs, Austal also has a contract to build up to 10 Joint High-Speed Vessel for the Navy, worth $1.6 billion if all options are executed.

Austal has about 3,000 workers at its Mobile shipyard and company officials expect to increase the workforce to 4,000 in 2013.

By Ellen Mitchell