Here's why the US Navy's newest littoral combat ship just tumbled into the water sideways

Lockheed MartinLCS 19, the future USS St. Louis, is launched in Wisconsin, December 15, 2018.
  • Lockheed Martin launched the latest Freedom-class littoral combat ship over the weekend.
  • The ship, to be named USS St. Louis, was dumped in the river on its side.
  • It’s one of the few ships to be launched that way, and it is done so because of the ship’s design and shallow draft.

The newest Freedom-class littoral combat ship, LCS 19, the future USS St. Louis, was christened and launched in Marinette, Wisconsin, on Saturday, when the 3,900-ton warship tumbled into the icy water of the Menominee River on its side.

Freedom-class littoral combat ships are among the few ships in the world that are launched sideways.


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That method was used “because the size of the ship and the capabilities of the shipyard allow for a side launch,” Joe DePietro, Lockheed’s vice president vice president of small combatants and ship systems, said in a statement.

“The ship has a shallow draft (it requires less than 14 feet of water to operate in) and is a small combatant (about 381 feet long), and can therefore be side launched, where many other ships cannot.”

“Our partner Fincantieri Marinette Marine has delivered more than 1,300 vessels and has used the side launch method across multiple Navy and Coast Guard platforms,” DePietro added. “The size and capacity of the vessels under construction enable use of the side-launch method.”

Lockheed Martin got the contract to build the ship in December 2010, and the name St. Louis was selected in April 2015. It will be the seventh Navy ship to bear that name – the first since the amphibious cargo ship St. Louis left service in 1991.


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LCS 19’s keel was laid in May 2017, when the ship’s sponsor Barbara Taylor – wife of the CEO of the St. Louis-based company Enterprise rental car – welded her initials into a steel plate that was included in the ship’s hull.

On December 15, Taylor christened the ship by smashing a bottle of champagne on its bow and then watched the warship tip over into the water, which you can do below.

Navy LCS St. Louis launchRMS Videography/VimeoThe Navy’s LCS 19 tipping back toward shore after being launched, December 15, 2018.

“LCS 19 is the second ship we’ve christened and launched this year,” DePietro said in a release, adding that the defence firm’s shipbuilding team had “truly hit its stride.”

“We completed trials on three ships and delivered two more,” DePietro added. “Once delivered to the Navy, LCS 19 will be on its way to independently completing targeted missions around the world.”


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Lockheed has delivered seven littoral combat ships to the Navy and seven more are in various stages of production and testing at Fincantieri Marinette Marine, where LCS 19 was launched on Saturday.

While LCS 19 has been christened and launched, it won’t become part of the Navy until it’s commissioned. At that point, the name St. Louis will become official.

USS Independence mine countermeasures UUV remote vehicle littoral combat shipUS Navy/Ron NewsomeThe Remote Minehunting System and an AN/AQS-20 mine-hunting sonar are brought aboard the littoral combat ship USS Independence during developmental testing of the mine-warfare mission module package, January 7, 2012.

The Navy’s littoral-combat-ship program is divided into two classes. Freedom-class ships are steel monohull vessels that are slightly smaller than their Independence-class counterparts, which are aluminium trimarans by General Dynamics that have a revolutionary design.

The LCS is meant to be a relatively cheap surface warship – about one-third the cost of a new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, according to Lockheed – with a modular design that allows it to be quickly outfitted with a variety of different equipment suited for different types of missions.

While both classes are open-ocean capable, they are designed for operations close to shore, with modular packages for their primary missions of antisubmarine warfare, mine countermeasures, and surface warfare against smaller boats. (Issues with the LCS program may lead to its mine-countermeasure assets being deployed on other ships.)

US Navy littoral combat ship USS Little Rock Buffalo(US Navy/Lockheed Martin)Crew members of the littoral combat ship USS Little Rock man the rails during the ship’s commissioning ceremony, in Buffalo, New York, December 16, 2017.

The LCS is also meant to carry out intelligence-gathering, maritime-security, and homeland-security missions and support for Marine or special-operations forces regardless of its installed mission package.

The LCS program has encountered numerous problems however, including controversy about cost overruns, issues with design and construction of the first models, and concerns about their ability to survive damage in combat. Late Sen. John McCain was a vociferous critic of the LCS program’s expense and mechanical issues.

The program has also faced more conventional hurdles. The USS Little Rock, the fifth Freedom-class LCS, was stuck in Montreal for three months at the beginning of this year, hemmed in by winter weather and sea ice.

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