The US Navy's newest Freedom-class littoral combat ship (LCS), the future USS Billings, has successfully been launched into the Menominee River at Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin.

USS Billings (LCS 15) was was launched by a Lockheed Martin-led industry team, and is set to be the first US Navy vessel to be named after the largest city in Montana, US.

Ship sponsor Sharla Tester said: “As a lifelong Montanan, there is no greater honour than to serve as the sponsor of the future USS Billings and to help bring this magnificent warship one step closer to joining the fleet.”

USS Billings will undergo additional outfitting and testing activities at Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard before the vessel’s expected delivery to the navy next year.

Lockheed Martin Littoral Ships and Systems vice-president Joe North said: “The Freedom-variant LCS plays a critical role in the US Navy's fleet, and we are committed to getting Billings and her highly capable sister ships into combatant commanders' hands as quickly as possible.

“These flexible ships will help the navy achieve its goals of growing the fleet rapidly and affordably.”

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"We are committed to getting Billings and her highly capable sister ships into combatant commanders' hands as quickly as possible."

The Lockheed Martin-led industry team is currently in full-rate production of the Freedom-variant of the LCS, and has delivered a total fo LCSs to the US Navy to date.

The LCS team comprises shipbuilder Fincantieri Marinette Marine, naval architect Gibbs & Cox and more than 800 suppliers from across 42 US states.

USS Billings is one of eight vessels currently in various stages of development at Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard, with another ship in long-lead production.

The keel was successfully laid for USS Billings in November 2015.

Image: The 15th Littoral Combat Ship, the future USS Billings, launches sideways into the Menominee River in Marinette, Wisconsin, US. Photo: courtesy of Lockheed Martin.