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Mayport set to receive boost as part of big Littoral Combat Ship program changes

The Navy’s new ships are undergoing a big overhaul, but that could actually mean some good news for Naval Station Mayport.

WOKV has continually followed concerns about the Littoral Combat Ships, including auditors questioning if enough testing was done and if the ship had the intended survivability and lethality. In the last year, there have also been four incidents of engineering casualties on the ships at sea.

That led Naval Surface Forces Commander to order an engineering stand down this week, citing the “ongoing challenges”. That order included that all engineering staff be re-trained, and that the Navy review its training and the procedures on board.

Now, WOKV has confirmed the Navy will change the ship’s crewing construct, testing procedures, and modularity- all key parts of the LCS platform that made the vessel unique to the Navy’s current fleet.

Under the design until now, the LCS were planned as a platform on to which different “mission modules”- basically packages of weapons and technology that are specific to one of three warfare areas- could be rotated. Sailors would be designated to one of the mission modules, spending four months on training and certification, four months on an LCS in Mayport, and four months on a forward deployed LCS- with three crews in constant rotation through the year. This “modularity” has been one of the points most hyped by Navy leadership.

Instead, now, the Navy is moving to a Blue/Gold crewing model similar to what’s used on Ballistic Missile submarines. Two crews will rotate to the same hull every four to five months, therefore consistently turning the ship over to each other with the same mission package on board. While the ship design will still allow for mission modules to be swapped if needed, the Navy confirms to WOKV that will not be standard practice and the ships will largely stick to one mission module.

The core crew and mission module crew will also merge in to a single crew of about 70 personnel dedicated to a single mission.

A statement from Naval Surface Forces Commander Vice Admiral Tom Rowden identified the crewing construct of the LCS as the “variable that most impacts the other factors such as manning, training, maintenance, and- most importantly- operations forward”. With the new construct also comes changes in training, including that four of the ships that have been built will be used for testing the ship, mission modules, and other technologies.  These ships will further be used for the training and certification of Sailors.

Another change deals with the homeporting of the LCS, and this is where Mayport- which is the East Coast homeport for the ships- stands to make gains. Until now, the base has been preparing for its first LCS by the end of this year, with eight slated to come by 2020. Now, the Navy says Mayport will be home to 12 LCS instead, meaning more Sailors and families coming to the First Coast. This comes at an important time for the base, which has seen ship levels drop with the decommissioning of Navy frigates.

The homeporting strategy change designates one class of LCS for the east coast and one for the west coast. Mayport is getting the Freedom-variant LCS while San Diego gets the Independence-variant.

The Navy could not yet say whether these changes will impact when Mayport’s first ship is slated to arrive. A statement issued to WOKV says that will become more clear during the ongoing review of the program. Naval Surface Forces Commander will lead a monthly LCS meeting to continually assess progress in connection to all of these changes.

LCS Squadron Two Commodore Captain Paul Young tells our partner Action News Jax he expects the USS Milwaukee, which is currently at Mayport undergoing testing, will remain at the base and become her first LCS.

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