(Article Courtesy of Darcie Moore, Times Record (Maine), 27 April 2019)
The family of President Lyndon B. Johnson, joined by Maine’s congressional delegation, Bath Iron Works workers and hundreds of Mainers honored the late president’s legacy Saturday at the christening of his namesake stealth destroyer at the shipyard.
Named for the 36th president of the United States, the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson is the third and final Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyer built at Bath Iron Works.
“Daddy was a proud Navy man … and on his lapel, for the rest of his life, he wore a rosette in service to the Navy,” said Lynda Johnson Robb, who sponsored the ship along with her sister Luci Baines Johnson. “I can assure you that he has a big grin on his face now. A grin of pride, memory and gratitude. My father always delighted in having something named for him. I am an example,” she said, drawing laughter from the audience. “He would tease his friends and staff that if he named their baby after him, he would present them with a heifer calf.”
Robb said she thought about it, but decided to bring only a small remembrance of that.
“So, I have a little longhorn here for Captain Gray to have in whatever place he thinks is the most appropriate on the ship.”
The ship’s crest pays homage to Johnson. Its design incorporates scales representing Johnson’s landmark legislative achievement, The Civil Rights Act of 1964. The crest also incorporates an astronaut’s glove representing Johnson’s support for NASA’s Apollo space program.
Johnson was also an advocate for a bundle of domestic programs to address poverty that he termed “the Great Society,” which is reflected in the ship’s motto, “Defensor ex societas magna,” which translates to “In defense of great society.”
Robb said she remembers walking from her family ranch to the cemetery in 1957, “and we looked up to the sky looking for Sputnik.”
At that time, a lot of people said, “You can keep your eyes on the stars but we will keep our feet on the ground,” she said. “But I recognize … these shipbuilders and this Navy realizes with Daddy, that we need to look forward.”
Vice Admiral Michael Moran, principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy, said the ship will serve as a multi-mission platform capable of operating an integral part of naval forces, whenever and wherever required. He characterized the ship as one of the most capable, warfighting assets the nation has to offer.
“Much like President Johnson helped lead our nation with innovative and lasting solutions during some of the nation’s most challenging times, this third and final Zumwalt-class destroyer will also bring new and innovative versatility, mission capability and vitality to the fleet that will enable our sailors and marines to more effectively protect the freedoms and our way of life,” said Moran. “The Zumwalt-class is the largest most technologically advanced surface combatant in the world,” he said, “and will be in the forefront of our nation’s sea power for decades to come.”
Changes and challenges at the shipyard
Dirk Lesko, president of Bath Iron Works, said the shipyard is experiencing the most significant changes in the composition of its workforce in three decades.
“As we hire and train the next generation of shipbuilders, we are mindful of the effort it takes to continue our proud legacy and grateful for the partnerships we have,” he said.
Last year, the shipyard delivered two ships, the first time it delivered two ships 14 weeks apart since 1995.
“That ship continues to reflect the strongest ship-over-ship improvement on any BIW program,” Lesko said. “That’s something we can all be proud of.”
The 15,761-ton, 610-foot USS Lyndon B. Johnson’s homeport will be in San Diego, California.
The Zumwalt-class are highly advanced stealth destroyers, featuring a wave-piercing tumblehome hull, an all-electric propulsion system, a small radar profile and a slew of other technologies. Even though the ships are roughly 100 feet longer than the Bath-built Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, they are designed to operate with about half the crew.
While the Navy originally wanted to build 32 Zumwalts, it ultimately cut its order to just three ships, all of which were built at Bath Iron Works. The Navy has had difficulty determining how to incorporate the three destroyers into the fleet, and in 2017 they changed their mission from operating close to shore and supporting ground troops to engaging in ship-to-ship combat. The Navy requested $89.7 million in their 2019 budget to convert the destroyers for their new mission.
The USS Lyndon B. Johnson is a departure from the first two Zumwalt-class destroyers in that it features a steel deckhouse, as opposed to the composite deckhouse used in the previous ships. The lighter composites used in the first two ships were built by Bath Iron Works’ primary competitor, Huntington Ingalls Industries in Mississippi, and then barged north to be added to the rest of the ship.
Since the steel deckhouse is cheaper than the composite alternative, the Navy decided to have the final deckhouse for the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson built out of steel. In 2013, the Navy awarded Bath Iron Works a $212 million contract to build the deckhouse.
Lesko said in addition to the USS Lyndon B. Johnson, Bath Iron Works has five other destroyers under construction. It is working to complete $200 million in investment across the shipyard to maintain and modernize facilities so they will be safer, more reliable and more efficient.