“Oops” might be the operative word here. Last Saturday, April 15, 2023, the newest and last of the Littoral Class ships, the USS Cleveland, was christened and launched into the waters of Lake Michigan from the Fincantieri Marinette Marine Shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin. She was side-launched, and, while this kind of launch is dramatic to witness, it usually goes off without a hitch. Not in this case. The video reveals a rather Chaplin-esque moment that could have been a real disaster.
First, a little bit about the USS Cleveland. She is a Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), and she is the sixteenth and final ship of this class to be built and launched. Now that she is in the water, she will soon undergo about a year’s worth of sea trials before she joins the active fleet. The Freedom class LCS is designed to be a versatile, networked, fast, agile, and stealthy combat warship capable of operating in shallow, littoral, that is, close-to-shore environments.
Freedom-class LCSs carry a core crew of some 40 sailors, along with specialized mission packages and aviation detachments, depending on the kinds of missions they are assigned. The ship is designed to be modified for various missions. Those missions might be anything from mine warfare to anti-submarine warfare or surface warfare. She can support special operations, as well as conduct maritime interdiction missions. Depending on the mission, her crew can swell up to as many as 75. Automation has been packed into this design as well, which allows for reduced crews.
The LCSs are 377 feet in length and have two of the largest Rolls Royce MT30 gas-turbine engines, larger than the ones on any other ship in the fleet. With these powerful engines, she can move at speeds of 47 knots, or 54 mph. They also have a shallow draft and hull design that makes them fast and agile. The design includes a helicopter flight deck and hangar deck. The flight deck is larger than those of much larger U.S. Navy ships. She can also launch and recover boats through a stern portal. Her armament includes a 57mm gun turret on the foredeck or a missile launcher. There is a Rolling Airframe missile launcher mounted above the hangar for short-range defense. She also has .50-caliber machine guns mounted in several locations topside.
But let’s get back to the launching of the USS Cleveland last Saturday. All went according to plan; the ship was christened with the traditional bottle of champagne, then she could be seen beginning her sideways slide into the waters of the branch of Lake Michigan known as Green Bay. It was a gorgeous day, and the crowds were excited to watch this unique form of launching, especially with a ship of this size. It all happens quicker than you might imagine. And as you will see, it appears that someone was asleep at the switch, or maybe a couple of people.
As the Cleveland, festooned with bunting and flags, slides sideways into the water, there is a tug boat that is apparently too close to the launch site. It is there, I’m guessing, to keep the ship from slipping too far out into the water in case lines break or something goes wrong. But in this case, something went a bit amiss – who knows why.
The crew of the tugboat got a drenching. The massive boat pushed a large wave up and over the stern of the tugboat. It appeared to many in the crowd that the Cleveland struck the tugboat, but when you see the film, I think it shows that there was no damage to either the Cleveland or the tugboat, though there may have been some serious embarrassment either for the tugboat crew or for the launching crew.
In any case, the USS Cleveland, the fourth ship to be christened with that name, is in the water with no apparent damage and is ready to start the serious work necessary for it to be able to join the fleet. The previously named ships include: a WWI cruiser (C-19), a WWII light cruiser (CL-55), and a Vietnam-era amphibious transport dock (LPD-7), which was decommissioned in 2011.
We wish the USS Cleveland (LCS-16) and her future crews Fair Winds and Following Seas. May she have a successful career with the fleet.Whizzco