Navy to base 6 littoral combat ships at Mayport

The USS Independence of the General Dynamics Independence Class andUSS Freedom of the Lockheed Martin Freedom Class littoral combat ships. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Jan Shultis)

MAYPORT, Fla. – The Navy made it official Thursday: Six littoral combat ships will be homeported at Mayport Naval Station starting in 2016, and more of the Navy's newest ships could be assigned there by 2020.

The six ships would bring 900 sailors and support personnel to the Mayport area. The ships are the future Little Rock, Sioux City, Wichita, Billings, Indianapolis and LCS 19 (name pending).

"Naval Station Mayport should be the rightful home of the Navy's cutting edge ships and technologies, and I'm pleased by what the LCS will mean for Florida and Jacksonville's military community,:" said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida. "With this announcement the Navy is again demonstrating how vital Mayport is to U.S. national defense and our maritime security posture."

A Navy environmental impact study released earlier this year said Mayport could handle up to 14 of the new class of relatively small ships intended for operations in close to shore.

"This is great news for our national security and for the First Coast," said U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville. "The world is not a safe place, and the Navy is continually being asked to do more with its resources. That's why I've been fighting on Capitol Hill to fund and maintain a robust fleet that includes the LCS, and bring these ships to Northeast Florida."

In addition to the littoral ships, the three-ship Amphibious Ready Group (ARG). The USS New York is already here, and the USS Iwo Jima  and the USS Fort McHenry are expected later this month.

Naval Station Mayport has been shrinking since losing its last aircraft carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy, in 2007. The number of frigates stationed there has dwindled.

Current plans call for the base to be upgraded to house a nuclear aircraft carrier by 2020, but that could also be threatened or delayed by budget constraints or political influence from lawmakers in Virginia, who want to keep all East Coast carriers based in Norfolk.