Jacksonville, FL - It’s another big step forward in the future of Naval Station Mayport.
A ribbon cutting ceremony Friday formally marked the opening of the Littoral Combat Ship Support Facility- the first of three buildings coming to the base as part of its designation as the East Coast homeport for the class of ships. The first LCS coming to Mayport will be the USS Little Rock at the end of 2016, with eight scheduled through 2020, and more possible after that.
“Ten years from now, it’s going to look like a totally different installation,” says Naval Station Mayport’s Commanding Officer Captain Wesley McCall.
The LCS Support Facility can house 600 employees, and LCS Squadron Two Commodore Captain Paul Young says they will be full this time next year.
“All of our specialties, all of our training and maintenance and operations will emanate from this facility,” Young says.
When you consider the families also coming with the 12 crews of 50 Sailors to staff the ships, the impact grows even further.
“The folks of Jacksonville should be very, very excited they have an asset like this in their backyard,” McCall says.
Mayport currently has 17 ships, a low level that follows the recent decommissioning of frigates across the Navy. The base recently became the homeport of three ships in an Amphibious Ready Group- the USS Iwo Jima, USS Fort McHenry, and USS New York. It somewhat offset the loss of the frigates, but the base has long been looking to the arrival of the LCS to kick off a period of sustained growth.
The Sailors who will be a part of that growth are excited, including ones that were involved in closing the chapter on frigates.
GSE1 Timothy Burch was deployed on the USS Simpson out of Mayport between 2006 and 2011. The USS Simpson decommissioned earlier this year, as Mayport’s final frigate.
“It was great to be part of the ending of frigates, and now a new part of being on the LCS,” Burch says.
He spent the past ten months in San Diego training for the LCS.
“It’s different, but it’s been a good learning experience,” he says.
Burch says the main reason he accepted transitioning to LCS was because it would bring him back to Mayport.
It’s not just the Sailors who are excited about Mayport though, McCall says that’s proven with the LCS East Coast homeport designation.
“I think that demonstrates our Navy’s and our nation’s commitment to Naval Station Mayport, and it really highlights the strategic importance of Mayport to our nation,” McCall says.
And Navy families have something to look forward to with the LCS as well.
Unlike the rotation of current ships, where crews are deployed with the vessel for as long as it’s at sea, the LCS is intended to have a forward presence for 16 months, but have crews that rotate every four months. For one third of the year, the crew will be training, certifying, and other similar tasks at Mayport. After that, they spend four months on an LCS in Mayport. Then, the crew flies out to the deployed LCS and swaps with the crew that’s currently in that part of the rotation. Each two ships- the one at Mayport and the one deployed- have three crews in constant rotation.
Young says this lets LCS be 50% deployed at all times, a much greater forward presence than other platforms currently in use. The crews themselves will also bring different specialties to the LCS, which is designed for anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, or mine countermeasures, according to Young.
While training right now is being done in San Diego, the LCS Training Facility and Mission Module Support Center at Mayport should be completed by 2019, at which point all training will be conducted locally.
When fully staffed, the LCS has 50 Sailors, but the mission and aviation detachments which also deploy bring the total staffing to 95-100 on board at any given time. Part of the reason the support staff for these ships is so large is because of the smaller crew on board- compared to some of the other types of ships. The Navy says that comes with an increased efficiency, though, because the support staff is able to manage multiple ships.
As the people who will fill the new Support Facility start moving in, they’ve got to settle quickly. Two LCS which will eventually homeport in San Diego are scheduled to visit Mayport next month for testing and practice, and Young says they will put these new facilities and capabilities to the test.