What is a Christening? All You Need to Know for the LCS 9 Launch

The Lockheed Martin-led industry team’s LCS program is set to hit another milestone on July 18 as the future USS Little Rock is scheduled to launch in Marinette, Wisconsin. The christening and launch ceremony is steeped in tradition; below is a complete guide to the ceremonies that surround the event.


What is a ship sponsor?

A ship sponsor is most often a woman, and is extended an invitation to sponsor a vessel by the Secretary of the Navy. Usually, this person has dedicated her life to public service, and serves as a central figure during the ship’s christening, launching, and commissioning. Little Rock’s sponsor is Janee Bonner, wife of former Rep. Josiah “Jo” Bonner (R-Alabama). 

What is a christening?

The tradition of christening a ship goes back centuries, and is believed to bring good luck and safe travel to the vessel. At the christening ceremony, the sponsor is given the honor of breaking the traditional bottle of champagne against the bow just before the ship enters the water for the first time. Champagne, often viewed as the most elegant of wines, was brought into use during the late 19th century. However, during the prohibition era, ships were christened with water and in the case of one submarine, cider. 

How does the launch work?

The actual physical process of launching a ship into the water can be an engineering challenge. Little Rock will be launched on her side from the Marinette Marine Corporation shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin. This method is often used when the body of water does not allow the ship to be launched lengthwise. Other methods include stern-first launching, in which the ship is released into the water lengthwise and backwards. Air-bag launching uses a series of inflatable tubes underneath the hull, or body of the ship. A video of the Detroit (LCS 7) side launch from 2013 can be viewed here

What happens after the launch?

The christening and the launch give a ship her identity. After the launch, Little Rock will continue to undergo outfitting and testing at Marinette Marine before delivery to the Navy in the summer of 2016.

What happens when the ship is commissioned?

After Little Rock completes her testing phase known as sea trials, she will be ready to undergo commissioning. Commissioning officially places the ship in active service, where she will be integrated into the fleet and the industry-Navy team will conduct additional program testing and crew training.  

What are the other LCSs doing now?

The first LCS, the USS Freedom, completed a deployment to Southeast Asia, where she participated in global naval exercises, sea patrols and humanitarian aid efforts. The successful deployment proved the value of a small surface combatant in the Navy’s Asia-Pacific strategy.

USS Fort Worth is in the midst of her 16-month deployment to Southeast Asia, and like the USS Freedom, has participated in numerous naval exercises, sea patrols and a humanitarian aid effort.

Milwaukee (LCS 5) is completing her trials in advance of her commissioning, scheduled for later this fall.

Detroit (LCS 7) was christened and launched in 2014, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015.

Sioux City (LCS 11), Wichita (LCS 13), Billings (LCS 15), Indianapolis (LCS 17), and St. Louis (LCS 19) are in various stages of construction.

In April 2015, the U.S. Navy issued the Lockheed Martin-led industry team a contract modification for LCS 21 valued at $362 million, along with $79 million in advanced procurement funding for LCS 23. The balance of the second ship will be funded by Dec. 31, 2015.