MILWAUKEE -- The USS Milwaukee littoral combat ship, a warship built in Wisconsin, was commissioned Saturday and is now ready to report for duty in the South China Sea.
An estimated 4,000 people turned out on a snowy, windy day for the ship's commissioning ceremony on Lake Michigan at Milwaukee's Veterans Park, the Journal Sentinel reported. Speakers included Gov. Scott Walker, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore and U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin.
Cmdr. Kendall Bridgewater, the ship's commanding officer, told the crowd that the USS Milwaukee and other littoral combat ships bring "incredible change to our Navy."
The ships can operate much closer to shore, and sail at faster speeds, than other vessels. Littoral combat ships also are designed to quickly swap out combat modules for missions that include searching for underwater mines, and battling other ships and submarines.
Those features help ensure "an unimpeded flow of commerce" on the world's oceans, said Adm. Michelle Howard, vice chief of naval operations.
The USS Fort Worth, sister ship to the USS Milwaukee, is now on duty in the South China Sea, said Rear Adm. Brian Antonio. The USS Milwaukee will soon join Navy patrols there, said Antonio, program executive officer of littoral combat ships.
"Like the USS Fort Worth, the USS Milwaukee represents the best of our nation and our Navy," he said.
But some question the effectiveness of the USS Milwaukee, and other littoral combat ships. The ship's interchangeable modules are supposed to make the ships more versatile, with each version tailored for a specific purpose. The original goal was to be able to change the modules in 72 hours.
Critics say that concept isn't working, and that the littoral combat ships don't have the firepower, or armor, of larger warships.
The USS Milwaukee has undergone sailing trials on Lake Michigan since Marinette Marine Corp. finished building it. It is the third Freedom-class littoral combat ship built in Marinette. The first, the USS Freedom, was commissioned in Milwaukee in 2008. But the USS Milwaukee wasn't officially part of the Navy's active fleet until the commissioning ceremony.
Baldwin said the USS Milwaukee is an essential piece of the nation's defense, and helps support Wisconsin's economy with jobs at Marinette Marine and its suppliers. The littoral ship program has created 2,000 direct jobs in Wisconsin, Baldwin's office said.
The ship "represents the gift of Wisconsin's hard work being passed on to the Navy and its sailors," she said.
Seven additional littoral combat ships are in various stages of production at Marinette Marine, said Stephanie Hill, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Corp.'s ship and aviation systems business line. Lockheed Martin is the general contractor for littoral combat ships, and subcontracts work to Marinette Marine.
After this weekend, the USS Milwaukee will travel through the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway to the East Coast, then south to the Panama Canal to reach its home port of San Diego.