Buffalo is going to be part of U.S. Navy history.
A new combat vessel will officially join the Navy’s fleet during ceremonies on the city’s waterfront later this year or early next year.
The new USS Little Rock, a Littoral Combat Ship, will be commissioned at Canalside next to the decommissioned ship of the same name, the first time an event will have happened with the vessels in such proximity in the Navy’s history.
The new Little Rock will enter active duty next to the former cruiser, now a floating museum in the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park. The event also will mark the first time in the city’s modern history that a ship entered the Navy’s fleet here.
And the man in charge of the ship will be Commander Paul Burkart, who graduated from high school outside Rochester in 1985.
Littoral Combat Ships get their name because they operate in waters close to shore.
The new Little Rock will be 378 feet long and 56 feet wide and will weigh about 3,000 tons.
That’s shorter and lighter than ships in the destroyer class.
“We’re going to be fast and agile. We’ll go above 40 knots – other Navy ships don’t quite make it that fast,” Burkart said.
The ship will be able to undertake three types of combat missions: anti-submarine, anti-mine and surface warfare.
Because of its abilities, the ship also will be well suited to take on illicit-trafficking operations in places like the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, as well as counter-piracy operations like around the Horn of Africa, Burkart said.
The ship will have a helicopter launch pad, a ramp for small boats and will have new water jet-propulsion.
A core crew of 50 will operate the ship, plus 20 to 23 more sailors depending on the mission-specific equipment brought aboard. That means the total size of the crew will peak at fewer than 100, far fewer than the 250 to 350 sailors aboard a destroyer, Burkart said.
“It takes fewer people because it’s more automated,” the graduate of Churchville-Chili High School said. In his 30-plus year career in the Navy, this will be Burkart’s 10th ship.
He enlisted in the Navy in Buffalo in 1984, before his senior year in high school. He eventually took part in an enlisted commissioning program, which allowed him to rise through the ranks as an officer.
The new Little Rock, named after the capital of Arkansas as was its namesake, will be the ninth ship of the LCS class. It was christened last July 18 at Marinette Marine Corp.’s shipyard in Marinette, Wis., with an estimated cost of $360 million. There are two variants within the LCS class – the Freedom variant, which has a conventional hull; and the Independence variant, which is a trimaran, or multi-hull boat. The Little Rock is a Freedom variant.
Once the ship is commissioned, it will undergo several months of tests of its combat systems and then mission-specific testing before it is ready to be deployed.
The decommissioned Little Rock was put into service as a light cruiser in 1945 and decommissioned in 1949. It was recommissioned as a guided missile cruiser in 1960 and decommissioned in 1976. It opened to the public in the naval park in 1979.
When the new Little Rock arrives in Buffalo from the Menominee River north of Green Bay for its commissioning event at Canalside, members of the public will be able to tour the ship as part of weeklong festivities. A date for the event has not been finalized.
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