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Little Rock, Big Ship: Newest LCS Follows in the Wake of World War II Cruiser

From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

When PCU Little Rock (LCS 9) is christened and launched on Saturday (July 18) at Marinette, Wisc., it will be the second Navy vessel named after the capital city in Arkansas. Upon its champagne-splashed hull, the littoral combat ship will continue the proud heritage of the original USS Little Rock (CL 92), which is now a museum ship at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, Buffalo, N.Y.

It will be an apt name for the littoral combat ship designed to be easily transformable into a multitude of functions. The first Little Rock featured three different hull numbers and designations during its 31-year career.

USS Little Rock (CL 92) was originally in service from 1945-1949.  That first four year tour of duty included training and exercises off Cuba and transiting the Panama Canal.  Later, she sailed in the Mediterranean 1947-1948 and was then decommissioned in 1949 to join the Atlantic Reserve Fleet at New York.

USS Little Rock (CL 92) in the Cape Cod Canal, Massachusetts, circa 1946-1949. (U.S. Navy Photo Courtesy of Captain Don Fink and Naval History and Heritage Command Photo Archives)

After a three-year conversion to a guided-missile cruiser, USS Little Rock (CLG 4) was recommissioned in 1960. During November 1961, Little Rock was ordered to the waters off Santo Domingo to provide stability during a period of unrest following the assassination of President Rafael Trujillo.  The ship also sailed annually to the Mediterranean as it maintained peace in southern Europe and the Middle East.

Little Rock was the Sixth Fleet flagship during the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War June 5-10, 1967. The cruiser provided assistance to USS Liberty (AGTR 5) after the ship was mistaken for an Egyptian vessel and attacked by Israeli Air Force fighter aircraft and Israeli Navy motor torpedo boats June 8. The attack, which severely damaged the ship, killed 34 crew members and wounded 171.

While steaming in the Mediterranean with the USS John F. Kennedy (CVA 67) task group, a young ensign named Ray Mabus, now the Secretary of the Navy, served as a surface warfare officer aboard the cruiser from 1970-72.

USS Little Rock (CLG 4) fires a "Talos" guided missile, during exercises in the Mediterranean Sea, May 4, 1961. (U.S. Navy Photo by PH3 D.R. Botts, Courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command Photo Archives )

On June 5, 1975, USS Little Rock represented the United States during the ceremony at Port Said, Egypt, for the reopening of the Suez Canal which had been closed since the June 1967 Six-Day War. She was the only foreign warship in the official flotilla that sailed down the canal to Ismailia for the occasion.

In 1975, Little Rock’s designation was changed from CLG-4 to CG-4. The cruiser and other ships of the Sixth Fleet provided protection and assistance during the June-July 1976 evacuations of non-Lebanese citizens of Beirut, Lebanon.

Little Rock was decommissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on Nov. 22, 1976, stricken from the Naval Register, only to be re-designated for the last time — as a museum ship, the only World War II cruiser on display in the United States and the sole survivor of the Cleveland class, according to the Historic Naval Ships Association.

On June 30, 1979, USS Little Rock opened to the public, along with Fletcher-class destroyer USS The Sullivans (DD 537) and Gato-class submarine USS Croaker (SS 246) at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, Buffalo, N.Y.

As for the newbie Little Rock, the littoral combat ship will be the fifth in the fleet of the odd-numbered Freedom variant, featuring a steel double-chine advanced semi-planing monohull design. The even-hulled LCSs are of the Independence-variant featuring stabilized slender monohulls of aluminum.

USS Little Rock (CLG 4) underway at sea, prior to taking over temporary duty as the flagship for Commander Second Fleet Vice Adm. K.S. Masterson on June 19, 1965. (U.S. Navy Photo Courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command Photo Archives )

Both variants are designed to operate from open ocean to coastal and littoral waters with their open architecture capable of being reconfigured for a variety of payload packages and manned or unmanned aviation assets: Surface Warfare, Mine Counter Measures, and Anti-Submarine Warfare. Smaller than a frigate, the LCS is an agile force multiplier in gaining and sustaining maritime supremacy while conducting operations consisting of freedom of navigation, theater and maritime security, maritime law enforcement, counter-piracy, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, search and rescue, and maritime domain patrols.

After Little Rock’s christening by ship’s sponsor Janée L. Bonner,wife of Rep. Josiah R. Bonner Jr. of Alabama, the LCS will undergo a year of trials. The ship’s commissioning date is anticipated to be in August 2016, when it will join sister Freedom-variant ships Freedom (LCS 1) and Fort Worth (LCS 3), both homeported in San Diego, Calif. Milwaukee (LCS 5) is scheduled for commissioning this fall; Detroit (LCS 7) was christened and launched Oct. 14, 2014; currently under construction are Sioux City (LCS 11), Wichita (LCS 13) and Billings (LCS 15).

Independence-variants include USS Independence (LCS 2), Coronado (LCS 4), both based in San Diego, while PCU Jackson (LCS 6) is undergoing builder’s trials. Montgomery (LCS 8) was christened in November 2014 and Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) was launched in February. Omaha (LCS 12), Manchester (LCS 14) and Tulsa (LCS 16) are in various stages of construction and pre-construction.

Watch LIVE coverage of PCU Little Rock’s (LCS 9) christening and launch is scheduled to begin Saturday, July 18 at 11 a.m. EDT.

Additional information about the littoral combat ship class, Freedom variant, is available online at http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4200&tid=1650&ct=4