Target 2 On Assignment: Inside Construction of the LCS - WBAY

Target 2 On Assignment: Inside Construction of the LCS

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This article originally appeared on May 1, 2013:

Up in the Marinette Marine shipyard, work is underway five days a week, 24 hours a day, as more than a thousand welders, electricians... you name it... put their skills to work.

Lockheed Martin and Marinette Marine are personified proud parents. Their first, the USS Freedom, roams the Pacific back in February shortly before leaving for good for southeast Asia.

But Freedom, like the ones to follow, comes from humble roots, from inside a warehouse along the Lake Michigan shoreline the Littoral Combat Ship is born.

Target 2 was given rare access inside Marinette Marine's new facilities. The Monday-through-Friday, three-shift, 24-hours-a-day operation must produce an LCS every three months.

"Shipbuilding's a great thing to be part of, and it's a special product that we build for our nation, and it's an exciting time here," Marinette Marine president and CEO Chuck Goddard said.

We meet Goddard and Joe North, vice president of Lockheed Martin's Littoral Combat Systems, atop the USS Milwaukee, Marinette's third littoral combat ship, nearly 50-percent complete.

"If we keep producing ships on schedule and on budget, that's what allows the Navy to keep awarding us to it," North said.

The process is as intricate as it is tedious. Work here on Marinette's fifth LCS is in its infant stage, one of four littoral combat ships under construction in the shipyard.

It's first designed, then with help electronically Marinette's 1,400 workers craft. Workers in yellow hats are welders, fitters wear orange.

"Obviously there was a lot of training that we needed to do to bring them up to Navy standards and get them certified," said North.

Our tour through the shipyard is tightly controlled and approved by the Navy -- a process that took weeks.

From government to company security and public relations, all the video and interviews are tightly watched.

We agree not to capture parts of the process the Navy says could compromise the ship or crew's security.

"We have some tougher restrictions, as you would imagine," North mentioned.

The ship is constructed piece by piece. They arrive as individual panels. They're assembled and eventually form a box.

The steel must be warmed, blasted and painted, before piece by piece the patchwork of each LCS finds its place. It's a process taking months.

"We have over 300 suppliers between Michigan and Wisconsin that can provide services to us. But the basic workforce here, they grow up welding, they grow up in the steel work. They understand pipe fitting and electrical," Goddard said.

You can look at all the pictures, all the video of the LCS, but to truly understand how big each ship is -- 400 feet -- you have to stand right in front of it.

Big, of course, is relative. In Navy terms, the LCS is created to be small and fast.

North said, "It is a very complex ship and a very tight design, and the shipyard up here has done a great job with the tools and the methods you need to put that together."

The USS Milwaukee is scheduled to launch later this fall, the USS Detroit not long after that, as Marinette Marine and Lockheed Martin nurture each ship's creation, leaving its eventual fate to the seas.

As the workforce is hard at work up in Marinette at this hour, some argue it isn't smooth sailing for the LCS program. There are reports the ships lack firepower, claims the computer networks could be hacked.

The second part of our Target 2 On Assignment explores the continued controversy in Washington over the LCS program that's keeping hundreds of people in Northeast Wisconsin employed. Click here for that report.

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