Future USS Billings christened, launched at Marinette Marine

The Future USS Billings as it slides into the water on Saturday, July 1, 2017. (Photo courtesy Lockheed Martin)

MARINETTE (WLUK) -- With a quick hit and the shatter of a champagne bottle against the hull, the future USS Billings made its way into the Menominee River Saturday.

The latest littoral combat ship, or LCS, is another step closer to joining the Navy’s fleet.

Ship sponsor Sharla Tester was humbled and honored to take part in the traditional christening. Her husband, Jon Tester, named the ship in honor of the patriotic and hardworking citizens of Billings, Montana.

"Walking up the podium to break that bottle of champagne and looking up at that ship I'm going 'I won't see this again', so I just kind of soaked it in," Tester said Saturday. "I'm not just a sponsor, I'm an advocate for that ship and all who sail in her."

One of those sailing will be Cmdr. Nathan Rowan. The ship is designed for mine countermeasure operations. Rowan says there will be two crews on the vessel, each having roughly 75 sailors.

"So, basically we'll be doing mine hunting in the fifthly area of operation in mine hunting, in hopes that we plow our way for other warships that will be over there conducting operations," said Rowan.

LCS 15 will be focused on mine-clearing, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare missions, according to Lockheed Martin.

The future USS Billings is part of the 355 ships the U.S. Navy is working to get.

U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-8th District, applauds the work being done by the ship builder, indicating it's getting better at a lower cost and in a quicker timeline and said, "it's an investment in our own security and I think it's a good one to make."

"That's what we need to do in Congress; we need to rebuild the Navy more broadly, and we have a unique window and time to do that," Gallagher said.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, says LCS 15 is perfectly suited to some of the emerging challenges in the world. Baldwin wants to continue fighting to keep the LCS program running strong.

"How incredible (Navy ships) are for our national security, our state's economy, and a tribute to the naval men and women who carry them out to sea with the U.S. flag pursing our freedom," Baldwin said.

The future USS Billings is 83 percent done. It will take about a year and a half of construction before joining the Navy fleet.

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