The future littoral combat ship USS Little Rock is underway during a high-speed run in Lake Michigan during acceptance trials in August. (U.S. Navy) The squadron of littoral combat ships at Mayport Naval Station will soon grow from two ships to three after the Navy commissioned the USS Little Rock on Saturday in Buffalo, N.Y.
The latest ship to join the fleet will now continue the voyage from Marinette, Wis., to Northeast Florida where it will be the newest vessel in Littoral Combat Ship Squadron Two.
The Navy has two varieties of littoral ships — the Freedom class and Independence class — with one type on the West Coast and the other on the East Coast.
All of the Navy’s Freedom-variant ships are built at a shipyard at the mouth of the Menominee River on the border of Wisconsin and Michigan. Each ship then goes through a series of trials in the waters of Lake Michigan before the crew begins the transit to the Atlantic Ocean.
The ships are all commissioned in different locations, but this is the first one in Mayport’s squadron that isn’t named for a city located in the Great Lakes region. First the USS Milwaukee was commissioned in its namesake city, then the USS Detroit was commissioned in Detroit.
Saturday’s ceremony took place at the Canalside waterfront in the historic district of Buffalo where the only other Navy vessel to be named for the city of Little Rock serves as a floating museum. The former USS Little Rock, a Cleveland-class light cruiser, was decommissioned in 1949.
The Freedom ships resemble traditional Navy ships with steel hulls and aluminum superstructures, while the Independence class are built entirely of aluminum with trimaran hulls.
The ships are used for surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare and mine counter-measures with modular designs that can be added or removed for different mission packages. They use steerable jet propulsion instead of propellers so they can operate close to shore.
The Little Rock is the 10th littoral ship delivered to the Navy and fifth of the Freedom variant. The Navy designated the first four littoral ships as test ships after a series of issues in the early stages of research and development.
The crew took over control of the Little Rock in Wisconsin but spent the last week taking in the sights in Buffalo. Many members of the crew attended a football game last week between the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts where driving snow presented difficulties for both teams — a much different environment than they will experience when they arrive at Mayport.
They also received the key to the city of Buffalo, visited veterans in hospitals and volunteered at local food banks.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas spoke to the crowd at Saturday’s ceremony and Janee L. Bonner, wife of former U.S. Rep. Josiah “Jo” Bonner of Alabama, served as the ship’s sponsor.
Mayport will officially welcome the vessel to the basin early in 2018.