MOBILE — At Austal USA’s world-class shipbuilding facility in its namesake city, the future USS Mobile (LCS 26) was christened on Saturday in front of a crowd of thousands of attendees.
The future USS Mobile is an Independence-variant littoral combat ship (LCS) currently under construction in Alabama’s Port City.
Dignitaries, Austal employees, community leaders and U.S. Navy personnel attended the ceremony, which was set alongside — and, for part of the crowd, under — the ship in a massive construction bay.
A symbiotic mixture of patriotism and local pride was the theme of the day, which while celebratory in the trademark Mobile fashion, also turned somber at moments, as the reality of what the ship symbolizes hit home.
A family tradition
A moment of silence was held at the beginning of the program to honor Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, as well as all of the service members who have, continue to and will put themselves in harm’s way for our nation.
Later, to begin his remarks, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne (AL-01) called for a moment of silence to honor the lives lost at Pensacola Naval Air Station on Friday.
“A loss anywhere in the Navy family is a loss for all of us,” he said.
Family was indeed a major component of the day.
Byrne’s wife, Rebecca, is the ship’s sponsor. Their three daughters are the ship’s matrons of honor, which, as the congressman afterward explained, means that one of them would take over in Mrs. Byrne’s stead if she became unable to continue her duties as sponsor.
“So as long as this ship’s in the United States Navy, a Byrne woman will take care of it, I guarantee you,” he added.
Both Rep. Byrne and Mrs. Byrne come from storied naval lineage.
In fact, the congressman’s grandmother worked at a Mobile shipbuilding company during World War II, one of many “Rosie the Riveters” who were cranking out one Liberty ship for the Navy every week in Alabama during that war.
That grandmother was herself made a sponsor of a Navy ship, the Afoundria, after her Merchant Marine son, the congressman’s uncle, was lost at sea in 1943 after his ship was sunk by a German U-boat.
Mrs. Byrne explained that one of her relatives was a U.S. Naval officer who served on over 30 missions to the Arctic in the early 1900s, including Admiral Peary’s famed expedition to the North Pole in 1909. Additionally, Mrs. Byrne’s great grandfather was a ship captain from Nova Scotia.
And, just this year, one of the Byrnes’ daughters married a Navy surface warfare officer.
History aside, the Navy is now very much part of the family’s present.
Mrs. Byrne commented, “I know now what it means to be a Navy family, which makes this day even more special for me.”
A city of builders
While the Byrnes have long-running ties to the open seas, so too does the city of Mobile have a storied history of excellence in shipbuilding.
From building the H.L. Hunley, the first submarine ever to sink a ship, in 1863 to Alabama Dry Dock and Ship Building Company’s historic work from 1917 until well into the 1970s to what Austal USA is accomplishing today, Mobile has made its mark by making ships.
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson, speaking on Saturday, remarked, “We are a city of makers, of builders, innovators and inventors.”
Austal is now the prime contractor for two cutting-edge U.S. Navy ships: the Independence-variant LCS and the Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF).
To date, Austal has delivered 10 of 14 contracted EPFs and 10 of 19 contracted LCS to the Navy, making the company’s Mobile facility the nation’s fifth-largest shipyard in the process. These 20 ships have been delivered just in the past five years, and Saturday marked the third christening in 2019 alone.
The Independence-variant LCS is a high-speed, shallow draft multi-mission ship capable of operating independently or in a group. These ships are designed to defeat growing littoral threats and provide access and dominance along coastal waters. A fast, maneuverable, and networked surface-combatant, LCS provides the required warfighting capabilities and operational flexibility to execute focused missions such as surface warfare, mine warfare and anti-submarine warfare.
Austal USA president Craig Perciavalle stated, “We are blessed to have christened so many ships through the years, but this one is special. It is a distinct privilege to build a ship named after your namesake city and this has truly been a community effort. The support we have received from Senator (Richard) Shelby, Senator (Doug) Jones, Congressman Byrne, the county and city has been incredible and has played a major role in our success to date.”
“With incredible speed, volume, flexibility and firepower, Mobile will be the coolest, most formidable small surface combatant on the planet, one that meets the needs of the Navy of today, while having the adaptability to meet the needs of the Navy of tomorrow — a ship that will represent the best that America has to offer across the globe for decades,” he added.
While LCS 26 will become the fifth USS Mobile in history, the ship will be the first of its name to actually be built in Mobile. Then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus in September of 2016 authorized the naming.
Stimpson stressed, “Our community is profoundly grateful for this tribute.”
The first USS Mobile was a side-wheel steamer that operated as a Confederate government operated blockade runner. It was captured by U.S. forces at New Orleans in April 1862, commissioned as Tennessee and later renamed Mobile.
The second Mobile was reportedly a passenger liner operated by Hamburg Amerika Lines between Germany and the United States until the outbreak of World War I. It was taken over by the Allied Maritime Council and assigned to the U.S. after the Armistice and commissioned March 1919.
The third Mobile (CL 63) was commissioned March 24, 1943. It participated in numerous campaigns in the Pacific during World War II and received 11 battle stars for her service by the time she was decommissioned in May of 1947.
The fourth Mobile (LKA 115) was an amphibious cargo ship that served from September 1969 until decommissioning in February of 1994. The captain of that vessel was actually in attendance at the christening on Saturday.
‘Fair winds and following seas’
Each speaker during Saturday’s program gave their version of wishing the future crew members of LCS 26, some of which were in the crowd — including the future first captain of the ship, protection in their travels and service to come. This included Perciavalle, Stimpson, Rep. Byrne and Mrs. Byrne, as well as: Carlo Zaffanella, vice president and general manager of maritime and strategic systems for General Dynamics Missions Systems; Frederick J. Stefany III, principal civilian deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition; Vice Admiral John G. Hannink, judge advocate general of the Navy; and Pastor Chris Bell of 3Circle Church.
“I wish you fair winds and following seas,” Rep. Byrne said. “Let me add, as we Irish say, may God hold you in the palm of His hand. And to you all, may God bless you, may God bless our great United States Navy and may God bless the United States of America.”
After Bell gave the invocation for the ship, Mrs. Byrne formally blessed the future USS Mobile through breaking a bottle of sparkling wine across the bow — as is a time-honored Navy tradition.
In his closing remarks, Stimpson presented the future crew members with a key to the city, which will always sail with LCS 26.
“I want to convey that this ship will sail with the support of our entire city,” the mayor emphasized, saying its future crew members should all consider themselves honorary Mobilians.
Stimpson concluded, “My prayer is that this ship and all who sail upon her will always have the protection of the Holy Spirit [and] the bay upon which she was built, for there is no greater protection.”
You can watch a live stream of the event here.
Read more in Yellowhammer’s live-tweet thread from the event here.
The future USS Mobile is slated to launch in the spring of 2020, after which it will undergo acceptance trials. Upon completion of these trials, the ship would subsequently be delivered to the U.S. Navy and an official commissioning, expected in 2021, would then be held.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn