USNS William McLean Launched in San Diego

Mayl 2011

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The U.S. Navy launched its newest Lewis and Clark (T-AKE) class ship, the USNS William McLean, on April 16 at the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in San Diego. The William McLean is the 12th of 14 T-AKE dry cargo/ammunition supply ships that are an important component of the SIU-manned Military Sealift Command (MSC) fleet.


The new vessel will be crewed in the unlicensed slots by members of the SIU Government Services Division.


“I am honored to represent then 9,000 men and women of MSC tonight as we christen the 12th dry cargo/ammunition ship to join MSC’s fleet,” said Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby, commander, MSC, who delivered the keynote address at the vessel launch. “USNS William McLean and her MSC mariners will be indispensible.”


The ship’s namesake, William Burdette McLean, was a physicist with the Navy who is credited with developing the Sidewinder missile. The Sidewinder missile is one of the most iconic and significant weapons in the Navy’s arsenal. It set the standard for heat-seeking, air-to-air missiles, and upgraded and alternative models are still in use today.


McLean started his career testing ordnance equipment at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C. After the end of World War II, he moved on to the Naval Ordnance Test Station in China Lake, Calif., where he led the project team developing the Sidewinder missile. In 1954, he was appointed technical director of the station and held that position until 1967. He then was promoted to technical director for the U.S. Navy’s submarine-warfare research center in San Diego until 1974. McLean passed away in 1976.


More than 1,000 people gathered at the NASSCO shipyard (a union-contracted facility) to witness the nighttime launching of the 689-foot ship. Margaret Taylor, McLean’s eldest niece, served as the ship’s sponsor and continued a longstanding Navy tradition of christening a vessel by breaking a bottle of champagne on the ship’s bow.


Construction started on the William McLean on March 26, 2010. The vessel is designed for long-range, independent sea travel and has the capacity to carry two helicopters and their crews. The ship can move more than 10,000 tons of food, fuel, ammunition, and other supplies and has the ability to reach speeds of 20 knots.


Following its launch, the William McLean is set to undergo sea trials and is expected to be delivered to the Navy for use at full capacity later this year.


According to MSC, T-AKE class ships play various important roles in the agency’s mission. Overall, 11 of the 14 vessels are designated to serve as Combat Logistics Force (CLF) ships. CLF vessels play an integral part in the Navy’s mission by providing necessary supplies to U.S. ships stationed at sea around the world. The remaining ships will serve in the Maritime Prepositioning Force.


“We at NASSCO are proud of the role the USNS William McLean will play in support of the U.S. Navy,” said Fred Harris, president of NASSCO and former union mariner. “This ship joins a distinguished tradition of NASSCO-built or modified ships bound for service under the direction of the Navy’s Military Sealift Command.”


Besides the McLean, the current T-AKE ships are the USNS Lewis and Clark, USNS Sacagawea, USNS Alan Shepard, USNS Richard E. Byrd, USNS Robert E. Peary, USNS Amelia Earhart, USNS Carl Brashear, USNS Wally Schirra, USNS Matthew Perry, USNS Charles Drew, and USNS Washington Chambers. According to MSC, the vessels are “designed and constructed to commercial specifications and standards and certified/classed by the American Bureau of Shipping, United States Coast Guard, and other regulatory bodies.”

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USNS William McLean

The USNS William McLean slides into the water during the ship’s launch and christening ceremony April 16 at the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in San Diego. (Photo by Sarah E. Burford, Military Sealift Command Pacific)