On the mouth of the Menominee River between Michigan and Wisconsin, sits the only military shipbuilding corporation on the Great Lakes, Marinette Marine Corporation. Created in 1942 to keep up with the shipbuilding growth during World War Two, it soon became the main production facility for shallow-drafted vessels and Coast Guard tenders. Today it is known for creating the newest multipurpose combat vessels for the War on Terror and international policing.
Marinette got its start during the middle of World War Two, when shipping on the Great Lakes started to diminish due to most supply ships being sent to ferry supplies and troops either in the Atlantic or Pacific. The company became responsible for building freighters and other commercial vessels to make up for the drop in shipping and to make sure materials were still getting to factories at a constant and timely matter, but soon would start to transfer to creating minesweepers and liberty ships to provide convoy support in the Atlantic during the war on U-boats. During the 1950’s, Marinette created over 260 landing craft for the Navy, as well as several survey vessels for the Army Corps of Engineers(web.archive.org). Most of these craft ended up being used during the Korean war for the landings at Inchon, while others would end up being used for training purposes on new technologies being explored by the Navy. It was also responsible for helping to maintain and repair Coast Guard vessels that required any upgrades or patch jobs, and keep them afloat for the winter months breaking the ice.
During the Vietnam War, the South Vietnamese contracted out eleven patrol craft for use on the rivers and deltas, as well as several exports to Burma, Ethiopia, and Indonesia. During this time it would also help create the river patrol craft that would be used in the Mekong Delta, commonly referred to by the soldiers as the “Brown Water Navy”, and used to intercept any Vietnamese craft thought to be carrying contraband. Marinette Marine would continue to supply both the army and navy with landing craft up until the 80’s due to landing craft slowly being replaced with the helicopter and amphibious tracked vehicles (AmTracs) becoming the more common way to deploy troops. The company would then decide to branch out into berthing barges, patrol craft, and ocean-going tugs, yet lacked the funding or interest to create military warships, especially considering the how the shipyard is placed in the Great Lakes. Considering that vessels had to be small enough to pass through the Welland Canal, it prevented Marinette from taking an active warship role to the major focus on aircraft carriers, submarines, and guided missile destroyers.
In the late 90’s it would make its first foray into larger ship designs with the development of the Juniper class buoy tenders for the Coast Guard, one of the first ships to contain an integrated navigation system for enhanced performance in coastal waters and in areas with known shoals and hazards, well suited for the Great Lakes. During the middle period of the 90’s, however, the shipyard experienced a severe slump in contracts and work, causing the faculty to drop from nearly 1,000 people to around 50, cause a near shutdown of the shipyard. It was only being granted the contract to create a fleet of buoy tenders for the Coast Guard that helped to bring the company back, as well as propelling it into much larger contracts for Navy barracks barges and dredges (Kneiszel). In 2000, it was purchased by The Manitowoc Company to expand its marine services division, until it sold the company in 2008 (PR Newswire). The company would end up providing barges, barracks ships, and tankers to the Navy and Army for use during Iraqi Freedom and Desert Storm, and continues to provide repairs to the support ships that have recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Today, Marinette Marine is currently owned by Fincantieri Marine Group, an Italian shipbuilding company that owns over twenty shipyards worldwide. It works together with its two other sister companies Bay Shipbuilding, which does repair and maintenance work on Coast Guard vessels, and ACE marine, which not only provides the aluminum parts needed for the Littoral Combat Ships, but also produces the Coast Guard’s Response Boat-Medium patrol craft. All companies are located in Wisconsin, and all sit on the shores of Lake Michigan, and are located near the city of Green Bay. The yard has recently undergone expansion, and now has over 550,000 square feet of space dedicated to manufacturing, construction, assembly, and warehouse storage. Several other production panel buildings have been erected to help streamline and shorten the production process while also allowing for construction on up to three vessels at one time. Most of the manufacturing processes have been automated for more precise cuts and quicker production processes, and all of the design staff have been equipped with the latest modelling software and CAD systems, such as Navisworks, Revit, and ShipConstructor. They currently employ over 700 workers and 700 suppliers in 43 states, most of which happen to come from Wisconsin, particularly the Marinette area, as well as a number of independent contractors to help provide repairs, construction advice, and design plans (TLW Productions). There is also currently a restricted area of the Menominee River to prevent any public access to the facilities or the ships in the water, as the unfinished vessels rest in the water until completion.
Marinette’s most recent contract with the Navy has been in the form of the Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship, or commonly referred to as the LCS. It was awarded to them by the Department of the Navy after they won a 188.2 million dollar design to create a vessel to deal with “shallow-water threats in coastal regions, such as mines, diesel submarines, and fast surface craft.” (M2 Presswire) At 386 feet long and 58 feet wide, these vessels are smaller than most modern destroyers, and has relatively short draft for shallow water work. With two diesel engines and two gas turbines powering its four water jets, the ships can reach up to 40 knots, or 46 miles per hour, and has the capacity to deploy helicopters, marines, or special forces, and is armed with anti-air missiles and a 57mm gun for defense (TLW Productions). They are also designed to have interchangeable modules, allowing them to be able to switch out major parts for whatever mission parameters they are expected to perform, such as mine clearing, anti-submarine warfare, anti-air warfare, and amphibious assault. As of now there are five Freedom LCS vessels in operation, most of which are in operation in the Pacific and around Central America, and nine more are currently in production and expected to be completed in the next two-three years. They are also responsible for helping to maintain the Coast Guard’s sixteen Juniper-class seagoing buoy tenders, which currently provide law enforcement and homeland security around America’s waters, as well as the 85 Response Boat-Mediums that mostly patrol the Great Lakes and provide policing duties on the border.
In order to build these state of the art ships, Marinette Marine has streamlined the production and assembly process to maximize production. The ship is divided up into multiple different sections known as modules, each having a specific number and letter designation. The design team fleshes out the models for each module, then sends it to the production yard to have it built. Each module is built individually, most of them being built upside down in order to minimize the complications for installing pipes and modules, then proceeds to go through the process of erection, furnishing, installation, sanding, and painting, and is then placed in a holding shed where it is assembled with the rest of the other modules to form the ship. Afterwards, the ship is launched into the water, finalized, and sent on sea trials before being picked up by the Navy (TLW Productions). This method of production has helped Marinette Marine produce ships at a quicker rate with less time spent on attempting to install piping and wiring on the ceiling and less chances of anything being incorrect.
As of right now, Marinette Marine’s shipbuilding progress has been to help ramp up the Navy’s fight against terrorism near the Middle East, especially in places with shallow waters. The LCS vessels in particular are to help combat the threat of suicidal fast boats that attempt to ram into ships, particularly referring to the bombing of the USS Cole near Yemen on October 12, 2000, and ended up killing Seventeen U.S sailors and injuring 39 more (Lorenz). It was decided afterwards that to help prevent any other possible bombings of that type, or from any underwater threats such as mines and submarines, the LCS would be created in order to eliminate any potential coastal threats, such as the number of small boat fleets used by Iran, which has taken a rather increasingly hostile approach to the U.S. The ships are also designed to provide a much more amphibious support role in such places as Afghanistan and Iraq. Considering how most special forces and amphibious operations take place from either aircraft carriers or specific destroyers which must remain in deep water, the LCS provides much closer support and multiple deployment methods including helicopter storage and rubber boat storage. Lastly, due to how fast these vessels are, the Navy is planning to keep several in reserve to run drug interdiction missions around the states. The Navy does plan on increasing its upward movement of more shallow-drafted vessels for costal fighting, so it is likely expected that the LCS contracts for Marinette Marine are likely going to continue, however it is more than likely to take on a role as a ship-killer as the Navy talks about the increasing armament of the Chinese and Russian navies, and discussed fitting all future ships with Harpoon anti-ship missiles to be used in a hunter-killer role. There is also discussion of using remotely operated drones to perform anti-submarine warfare against diesel submarines commonly used by third world countries or pirate groups.
However there has been some controversy surrounding these futuristic new warships, particularly the fact that there have been multiple mechanical and engineer failures occurring aboard both models for some time now. Problems with the generators melting down, pipes bursting, and diesel engines failing have caused quite a hassle in the Navy, forcing these ships to frequently visit ports for lengthy and expensive repairs. Unfortunately this has attracted even more unwanted attention, particularly from the government. The Defense Department in the Pentagon has made it a recent goal of cutting the military budget without cutting down on national security, and to do so they have turned their attention to major weapon program cuts (Nissenbaum). They have decided they want the Navy to cut back on their LCS orders, both for a way to cut down on spending and until the ships can actually perform as expected. Other defense critics have stated that the ships lack adequate protection and armament, being made out of lightweight steel and aluminum to help increase speed and agility, and that they lack the array of guided missiles and torpedoes on other contemporary warships of similar sizes and displacements, such as destroyers and frigates. Others have stated that these changes were made for lower costs, since it is much cheaper to construct an LCS than it is to construct a destroyer or aircraft carrier (Nissenbaum). As of now, it is currently unknown what plans to happen to the project, considering ships are still being ordered, yet still seem to be suffering from some type of engineering problems. Other problems that have been pointed out have been relying on outside contractors to fix problems, a smaller crew that can’t juggle as many responsibilities as believed, and delays in equipment. Still, most Navy personnel at hopeful that the project will continue, and they are hoping that eventually 1/3 of the navy will consist of LCS vessels around 2028, provided that all of the kinks can be worked out with the current vessels, and all future ships can be up to specifications.
In summary, the future of Marinette Marine for the military is uncertain at the moment, considering both the recent malfunctions of the recent vessels and the Defense Departments desire to cut the military budget without sacrificing effectiveness, it is unclear on if the LCS project will continue, and if it does, that Marinette Marine will continue the contract. Nevertheless, Marinette Marine will obviously continue to supply the military with high-grade warships to protect the nation, whether it be in the form of a new guided missile destroyer, or simple patrol boat.
1. web.archive.org (2011) Marinette Marine Shipyard Index
2. TLW Productions (2016) Fincantieri Marinette Marine Website
3. Barrett, Rick (2011) Marinette Marine’s Shipbuilding Boomlet
4. globalsecurity.org (2012) Marinette Marine Corporation
5. Nissenbaum, Dion, The Asian Wall Street Journal ( Nov. 2013) Navy Ship of the Future Confronts Budget Cutters
6. M2 Presswire, Coventry (Dec. 16, 2004) Navy Awards First Contract Option for First Littoral Combat Ship
7. Kneiszel, Jim, Green Bay Press Gazette (Dec. 1, 1999) Shipbuilder Right on Course After Long Slump
8. Lorenz, Akiva (Dec. 27, 2007) Analyzing the USS Cole Bombing
9. PR Newswire, New York (Nov. 20, 2000) Manitowoc Company completes $48 Million Acquisition of Marinette Marine
10.Taubman, Phillip (Apr. 25, 2008) Lesson on How Not to Build a Navy Ship