Time-Honored Traditions: Ship Commissioning
When it comes to commissioning ships, October has been a busy month for the U.S. Navy, particularly for the Surface Force. This month the Surface Navy has already welcomed one new warship, USS John P. Murtha (LPD 26), into the fleet and tomorrow, the Navy’s largest, most technologically advanced destroyer, USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), will be commissioned.
But long before a ship is ready to be commissioned it must be built and outfitted, tested and evaluated, and the crew must learn the ship’s systems. Along the way the ship passes through a series of traditional maritime milestones, qualifications and certifications.
It all begins with a keel laying ceremony. This event represents the formal beginning of the ship and typically recognizes the first joining together of ship components. With the keel laying the ship is officially under construction. After the ship is built it will be christened and launched, both of which usually happen during the same ceremony when the ship is christened with a name and introduced into the water for the first time. Following that, the ship goes through a period of “fitting out” in which important ship’s systems are installed, tested, and evaluated. That process alone often takes about two years.
During fitting out numerous systems and equipment are installed and the vessel is transformed into a habitable warship. Systems for spaces like the galley and engineering plant, along with weapon and electronic systems throughout the ship are installed and tested. The ship also undergoes sea trials to ensure everything works as designed while giving the crew an opportunity to get to learn the intricacies of their new warship.
Before hitting the ultimate milestone—commissioning—the vessel and crew are often referred to as a Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) but they’ll change to United States Ship (USS) during the commissioning ceremony. At that point, the crew will be told by the ship’s sponsor to “Bring this ship to life,” which is when ship’s company leave their formation and run to cross the ship’s brow to man the ship and turn on the systems.
Although October has been busy time, each new ship that joins the fleet, like USS John P. Murtha, the future USS Zumwalt, and the future USS Detroit, serve to make our Navy and our Surface Force stronger and better prepared to do America’s work.