The iconic Naval Academy seawall looks a little different this week: a new, $400 million U.S. Navy warship is tied up alongside the Academy grounds.
The Navy’s Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is in Annapolis to receive her proper name: the USS Sioux City. It’s the first time a major combat ship will ever be commissioned at the Naval Academy.
LCS 11, as she’s currently known, is a big, powerful semi-planing monohull that can move at a 40-knot clip. She draws less than 14 feet, allowing her to sidle right up to the seawall in Annapolis.
The rest of the week is full of public ship tours, fundraisers to support the ship’s crew, and finally, Saturday’s commissioning ceremony, which LCS 11’s commander, James Malone, calls one of the most patriotic displays you’ll ever see. 5,000 people are expected to attend. And among the thousands will be an Annapolis man who just happened to design the Freedom-class Littoral Combat ship.
This week Bay Bulletin had the chance to talk with Ben Capuco, chief naval architect at Gibbs & Cox. Capuco’s team there dreamed up the ship’s concept back in 2002. The U.S. Navy wanted an inexpensive, low-draft ship that could carry flexible, modular payloads and travel faster than 40 knots. It would serve as the “pickup truck” of combat ships, with plenty of open space on board.
Lead contractor Lockheed Martin won the contract in 2004, working alongside Gibbs & Cox, and by 2007, the first Littoral Combat Ship was deployed. Capuco calls the timeline “unprecedented” for a ship like this. At the time, he was raising a young family in Annapolis. He says it took a lot of trips to the Navy shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin, to see the design into production. And creating a ship like the LCS takes a village: Capuco says there were more than 200 Gibbs & Cox employees involved in its design, at both its Arlington and Hampton, Virginia locations. Including the Lockheed Martin team and the Wisconsin shipbuilders, he says literally thousands of people have worked on LCS 11 and her predecessors.
Today, Capuco and his wife live in Alexandria, Virginia, but keep a condo in Eastport. He is a member of Annapolis Yacht Club, where he races his sailboat Zuul.
Capuco says he’s excited to see his dream come full circle, back to Annapolis. “It’s great to have something like this that you’ve worked on— in what I still consider my hometown.”
“It’s been a fun project,” Capuco says humbly.
-Meg Walburn Viviano