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Launch of Brand New U.S. Warship Goes Awry

Launch of Brand New U.S. Warship Goes Awry

A new U.S. Navy warship appeared to collide with a tugboat during a “dramatic” launch of the vessel.

The U.S. Navy said on Friday that it would “christen and launch” the latest Freedom-variant LCS, or Littoral Combat Ship, which would be known as the U.S.S. Cleveland (LCS 31). The ship launched at 10 a.m. local time on Saturday at the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin. It was the last scheduled side launch of a ship at the Wisconsin shipyard before a ship lift system is put in place, according to the Navy.

In footage purportedly showing the event, the new LCS appears to collide with the tugboat that aided the launch. Amid cheers, the boats slowly take off, only for the U.S.S. Cleveland to immediately tilt to the side and send a wave crashing over the tugboat. It’s unclear if the warship slammed into the tugboat, or if it was sent backward because of the force of the wave.

The U.S.S. Freedom (LCS 1) is shown during day one of the ship’s builders’ trials on July 28, 2008. On April 14, the U.S. Navy said it would “christen and launch” the latest Freedom-variant LCS, or Littoral Combat Ship, which would be known as the U.S.S. Cleveland (LCS 31).
Lockheed Martin/Getty Images

A U.S. Navy spokesperson told Newsweek that “during the launch of the future USS Cleveland (LCS 31) on April 15, 2023 at Fincantieri Marinette Marine (FMM) in Marinette, Wisconsin, unintentional contact occurred between the ship and a supporting tug.”

“No personnel injuries occurred, but there was limited damage to LCS 31,” the spokesperson added.

“The damaged area is well above the waterline and no flooding occurred,” but an “assessment was completed and permanent repairs are being planned.”

“Root cause of the incident is currently under investigation by the Navy and shipbuilder,” they continued.

Mark Grove, a senior lecturer at the University of Lincoln’s Maritime Studies Center at the Britannia Royal Naval College Dartmouth, told Newsweek that the tugboat is there to “pull” the ship into the water, working with gravity to side-launch the new vessel in what is “the most dramatic” and an “old-fashioned” form of launching.

It is typically used when there is not sufficient water to launch the vessel stern-first down a slipway, Grove said, and vessels will usually need to be designed with this specific launching technique in mind.

The ship, which is the fourth to be named after the Ohio city of Cleveland, is the 16th—and final—Freedom-class LCS.

The launch “will be another step closer to joining our fleet, sailing the open seas, continuing to defend our nation, and representing the strong connection our Navy has with the city of Cleveland,” Carlos Del Toro, Secretary of the Navy, said in a press release ahead of Saturday’s event.

LCS-class vessels are described by the U.S. Navy as “fast, optimally-manned, mission-tailored surface combatants,” able to navigate near-shore waters as well as the open ocean. There are two variants of LCS class ships, known as Freedom and Independence, with the key difference being the monohull and multihull designs, Grove said.

They are designed to be relatively small, fast and inexpensive vessels, with a small number of crews operating the highly maneuverable ship. Experts are split on the continued usefulness of the vessels, which have been plagued by “reliability issues,” meaning they have not been “a huge success story,” Grove said.

Update 04/19/23, 10:45 a.m. ET: This story was updated with a comment from the U.S. Navy.

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