FORT WORTH — Cmdr. Warren Cupps wears his Fort Worth cowboy boots and a Stetson hat on the bridge of “the best ship on the water.”“There’s no doubt in my mind that the USS Fort Worth will be successful, because the sailors manning LCS ships are the best the Navy has got,” Cupps said.Four of those sailors accompanied their captain to the littoral combat ship’s namesake city to celebrate the first anniversary of the USS Fort Worth’s commissioning.Having a ship carry Fort Worth’s name and seeing its citizens respond to that ship and its crew is one of Rep. Kay Granger’s proudest memories as a public servant, the Congresswoman said in an email.“With thousands of letters, school children’s drawings, emails and phone calls, we demonstrated our community’s tradition of service and patriotism,” Granger said.The first year has been very challenging, said Cupps, a 41-year-old career sailor who was born in Fort Worth at Carswell Air Force Base.“We just went through the Combat Systems Qualification Testing and the final contract trials,” Cupps said.Cupps and Lt. Jamie Diaz, 35, of Arlington; Lt. Cavell Thomas, 29, of Surry, Va.; Engineman First Class Emanuil Burykin, 30, of Erie, Penn.; and Operations Specialist First Class John Dubose, 33, of Gonzales, agreed that the San Diego-based ship performed outstandingly well during recent trials and training.“When you go to sea on a new ship you expect some hiccups,” Burykin said. “It’s how you work through those hiccups that determines success.”Ready for surface warfareLittoral combat ships are operated alternately by two complete crews. While Cmdr. Henry Kim’s gold crew trains aboard and continues testing the ship’s systems, Cupps’ blue crew will be training ashore. The crews will switch again in a few months and, after yet more testing and training, the ship will finally set out on the task for which it was built, Cupps said.Littoral ships are capable of operating in shallow water and are designed to perform missions that vary from surface warfare to antisubmarine warfare to mine sweeping and more depending on modules that can be switched out as needed. With a surface-warfare package, the Fort Worth’s mission includes taking on swarms of fast, small boats that would be encountered during missions to fight piracy, terrorism and drug running, Cupps said.“We’ll deploy with the surface-warfare package in the fall of 2014,” Cupps said.‘Ship has a stable design’While the USS Fort Worth is still in its infancy, the future for other LCS warships remains unclear. Problems with development of the modification packages are among complaints by the Government Accountability Office in a July 25 report that urged Congress not to fund construction of more littoral combat ships until further studies are completed. Lockheed Martin finished the USS Fort Worth — the second of 52 LCS warships that the Navy wants —two months early and right on its $360 million budget. The first ship of the class, the USS Freedom, suffered from delays and overruns that pushed its cost to $480 million.But Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said last month that he believes the United States needs 50 more littoral ships despite the GAO’s concerns. Congressman Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, said the LCS is an important program, because it represents the Navy’s shift to a combat ship that can perform high-tech missions and be operated by smaller crews.“While there have been challenges in the development of this program, just like any other, the ship now has a stable design and the price of the ships has come down dramatically,” Veasey said in an email. “In fact, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley recently testified that LCS is the most affordable warship program in the Navy.”Cupps doesn’t concern himself with the drama in Congress, especially when the USS Fort Worth is underway.“It’s not just because commanding this ship is awesome, but being in command of this crew is awesome,” Cupps said. “This is the best crew I’ve ever had.” This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Terry Evans, 817-390-7620 Twitter: @fwstevans