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Navy contract could be good news for Fairbanks Morse

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
June 23, 2010
— The U.S. Navy is expected to make a decision this summer that could keep a local manufacturer busy for years to come.

The Navy will choose one of two competing designs for its new littoral combat ship, or LCS.


One of those designs, by Lockheed Martin, includes massive diesel engines built in Beloit by Fairbanks Morse Engine.


If the Lockheed Martin version wins the contract, Fairbanks Morse likely would build engines for about 55 ships, said John Bottorff, Fairbanks Morse vice president for human resources.


“It’s a considerable amount of work for our plant, so it’s a pretty big deal,” Bottorff said.


Bottorff was cautious about how that might affect employment at the Fairbanks Morse plant in Beloit, which now employs about 325.


If the plant didn’t get the contract, “it would have a negative impact on our employment,” Bottorff said. “It would not add a ton of jobs, but it would stabilize our employment for years to come, and over time it would build up our workforce a little bit.”


Two Fairbanks Morse engines already are powering the first littoral combat ship on active duty. Christened the USS Freedom, its maiden voyage reportedly included successful operations against drug smugglers in the Gulf of Mexico.


Marinette Marine in northern Wisconsin built the USS Freedom. The shipbuilder is building a second littoral combat ship in Marinette, with another pair of Fairbanks Morse diesels.


State Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, recently wrote to the secretary of the Navy and the White House Council for Auto Communities and Workers, pleading the case for the Wisconsin-based ship.


Robson’s letters noted the grave job losses in Rock County in recent years.


General Dynamics and shipbuilder Austal have built a prototype of the competing design and are building a second, according to news reports. Austal builds ships in Mobile, Ala., also in a region hit hard economically because of the Gulf oil spill.


Reuters reported this month that the Navy’s commitment to build the next 10 littoral combat ships could come as late as August.


Bottorff said Congress and the Navy appear to be committed to building all 55 of the warships.


Gov. Jim Doyle announced last month that his administration had put together $49 million in tax credits to support Marinette Marine and suppliers around the state.


Doyle said more than 250, mostly small, Wisconsin suppliers would benefit.


The contract would create up to 2,200 new jobs at the Marinette shipyard for a total of 5,000 jobs statewide, Doyle said in a May 25 news release.


“In terms of job creation and economic impact, the LCS project would be like bringing a big, new auto plant to northeast Wisconsin,” Doyle’s news release says.


Fairbanks Morse has heard positive reports about the performance of the USS Freedom, Bottorff said, adding:


“We’re hopeful and confident that the Navy will make the decision to go with the Lockheed Martin vessel.”


A 21ST CENTURY WARSHIP FROM WISCONSIN

The U.S. Navy’s littoral combat ship is designed to be very fast, operate in shallow and deep waters and to complete missions now performed by several types of ships. Here are some details about the first littoral combat ship to go on active duty, the USS Freedom, according to news reports and news releases:


Size: 378 feet long, 3,400 tons.


Propulsion: Two 16-cylinder Fairbanks Morse Colt-Pielstick diesel engines, which deliver 17,380 brake horsepower, providing low-speed, high-torque performance said to be essential to shallow-water operations. Also, two Rolls Royce MT30 gas turbines kick in when there’s a need for speed. The engines power water jets—not propellers—that reportedly give the LCSes sprint speeds in excess of 50 knots.


Draft: The LCSes can operate where few warships of its size can go, in waters as shallow as 13 feet of water, according to The Officer, a magazine of the Reserve Officers Association.


Weapons: The littoral combat ships are set up to carry a dizzying array of weapons systems, from launching boats from a large hatch in the stern to onboard helicopters, unmanned vehicles that operate underwater and on the surface, anti-mine operations, anti-submarine technology, missile launchers and a 57mm gun that can shoot 200 rounds a minute, according to Defense Industry Daily.


Strategic thinking: The littoral combat ships were designed to address potential conflict areas around the globe, many of which feature shallow waters, such as the Persian Gulf. Press reports say drug smugglers and pirates could be among its targets, not to mention the probability that it would be used for secret operations by the likes of the Navy SEALs.


Retirees: 55 littoral combat ships are expected to replace 30 aging frigates and 26 minesweepers.


Fun fact: The littoral combat ships are made for very serious, potentially deadly, business, but that didn’t stop someone from having a little prideful fun with it. There’s a photo of the USS Freedom making the rounds that apparently has been digitally altered to give it a golden hull and green decks with a large Green Bay Packers logo on the prow.



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