MAYPORT, Fla. - The Navy's newest littoral combat ship sailed into its new home port Wednesday as Naval Station Mayport welcomes the USS Billings.
The U.S. Navy commissioned the ship Saturday in Key West. It becomes the sixth to arrive at Mayport. The Navy eventually expects to base 14 of the small, fast, multi-purpose vessels here.
The Billings' missions will include surface warfare, mine countermeasure and anti-surface warfare.
"It’s one of the fastest ships in the Navy, and how we can get in close to shore is something that is not normal for any other warship," Commanding Officer Nathan Rowan said.
Two crews of 70 to 75 sailors are assigned to the ship -- a gold crew and a blue crew. They rotate on and off the ship about every eight months.
Over the past several years, the Department of Defense has made Northeast Florida and San Diego the home ports for this new fleet of ships. Each will have a specific mission.
"So the first four would be surface warfare. Ships like the USS Billings will be mine countermeasure, but that means ... we will take the sailor out of the minefield, essentially," Lt. j.g. Jimmy Griffin said. "So the ship is not going to go into the minefield. We will have unmanned boats, unmanned helicopters and unmanned submarines."
This first warship named for Billings, Montana, will be in testing and training for the next eight months. No date is set for its first deployment.
Recent history of Naval Station Mayport
The Mayport-based aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy was decommissioned in 2007. It was one of the Navy’s last non-nuclear carriers. For years after that, the defense department kept saying the long-range plan was to base another carrier at Mayport.
But for Maypor to be a nuclear-powered carrier, many upgrades would have been needed, including a storage unit for spent fuel rods. The plan was to move a carrier from Norfolk, but the Virginia Congressional delegation howled in protest, vowing to fight any transfer.
In the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, the defense department pointed to 2014 as the year a nuclear carrier would be based at Mayport but budget constraints kept pushing that date back.
In 2018, Flordia's U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio asked the Trump administration for funds to make those upgrades, and again Virginia lawmakers resisted.
While there's still no carrier at Mayport and none of the needed upgrades were completed, DoD has made Mayport a major home port for these Littoral Combat Ships. The Navy expects 14 of these small ships to be based at Mayport.
The guided-missile frigate squadron that used to be a Mayport has been decommissioned. There are still four guided-missile cruisers at Mayport, along with Destroyer Squadron 14, comprised of six destroyers and three patrol ships.
A few years ago, the Navy also moved the Iwo Amphibious Ready Group to Mayport. That group is comprised of the USS Iwo Jima, the USS New York, which has a transport deck that looks a little like a small carrier, and the USS Ft. McHenry. That group has about 4,500 sailors.
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