Austal USA recently marked the official start of construction on the future 263'x59' USNS Billy Frank Jr. with a keel laying ceremony at the shipyards Mobile, Ala., manufacturing facility. It will be the Navy’s 11th towing, salvage and rescue ship (T-ATS 11), and the first one built at Austal USA.

T-ATS 11 will provide oceangoing towing, salvage and rescue capabilities to support fleet operations. The Billy Frank Jr., and all of the T-ATSes, will be multimission common hull platforms capable of towing Navy ships and will have 6,000-sq.-ft. of deck space for embarked systems. The large, unobstructed deck allows for the embarkation of a variety of stand-alone and interchangeable systems. 

“Austal USA is excited to recognize this major milestone for our team on the construction of our first T-ATS vessel,” Dave Growden, vice president of new construction, said during the ceremony.

The T-ATS platform will combine the capabilities of the retiring rescue and salvage ship (T-ARS 50) and fleet ocean tug (T-ATF 166) platforms. T-ATSes support current missions including towing, salvage, rescue, oil spill response, humanitarian assistance, and wide-area search and surveillance. The platform also enables future rapid capability initiatives such as supporting modular payloads with hotel services and appropriate interfaces.

Main propulsion will come from twin Wartsila 8L32 diesel engines, producing 6,308 hp each. The ship will have a running speed of 15.1 knots and a range of 8,170 nm.  

The future Billy Frank Jr. is one of two T-ATSes under construction at Austal USA with three more under contract. The ship can carry a crew of 42 sailors.

The ship’s namesake, Billy Frank Jr., was a member of the Nisqually Indian Tribe and a Korean War veteran where he served in the Marine Corps. Frank, from the state of Washington, later became an activist who fought for justice and environmental preservation. 

Ship sponsor Peggen Frank and her husband, William Frank III, authenticated the keel. They were assisted by Brandon Auld, a four-year Austal USA veteran A-class structural fitter.


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