The News-Press gets a tour of the fast and futuristic ship before Saturday’s commissioning
The USS Santa Barbara and the city of Santa Barbara share more than just a name.
“Resilient and Determined” reads the USS Santa Barbara’s banner, signifying the motto of the littoral combat ship’s crew. Arguably that slogan rings equally true for Santa Barbara, a city with a proud history.
On Saturday morning at the naval base in Port Hueneme, the USS Santa Barbara will be commissioned, officially placing the ship and its crew as ready for active service. And after five years of anticipation, the crew is ecstatic to show off their ship to the world. The News-Press was among the media who toured the ship Thursday at Naval Base Ventura County.
“It’s like getting ready for a wedding,” said Lt. Ada Willis, the public affairs officer, describing the crew’s excitement.
A littoral combat ship is a relatively smaller vessel, optimizing speed and agility. It also has a bigger flight deck, allowing the ship to store and use various vehicles such as helicopters, giving the ship and its crew more flexibility, increasing the potential capabilities of the ship.
Littoral combat ships have two variants, the Freedom variant and the Independence variant. The USS Santa Barbara is of the Independence variant, giving its body a unique triangular shape, making this class of ship easily identifiable.
From above, the sleekness and shape of an Independence-class littoral combat ship almost looks like a bird gliding in the water, waiting to spread its wings.
From the ground, the shape and sleekness of the ship almost makes it look like a spaceship, invoking a futuristic aesthetic. Add to that Lt. Willis’ description that entering the ship, especially for the first time, is like entering a different world.
The futuristic, or space-like, feel continues when you enter the quarter deck — and see the silver-covered interior — which is from the fire retardant covering that wraps most of the ship’s interior — and the various big machinery throughout the mission bay, such as the ship’s crane system.
However, the USS Santa Barbara is not just futuristic looking. The Navy noted the ship has some of the most advanced equipment and systems — even integrating manned and unmanned equipment and vehicles — prioritizing the efficiency and safety of the ship and its crew.
The Navy said the USS Santa Barbara is so efficient that it only needs about a third of the crew that a typical naval vessel would need, but this means that each crew member is doing the work of about three to four people. That speaks to not just the efficiency of the crew members but also their resilience and determination.
Executive Officer Paul Richardson said that one thing that the USS Santa Barbara got “incredibly right” is the training pipeline, which is very rigorous. And for good reason.
For instance, the officer of the deck must be able to monitor and process about 10 screens to ensure safe passage and clear communications. This writer got to sit in the officer of the deck’s chair, and all of the information is overwhelming if you are untrained.
With all of the advanced capabilities of ICLCS, it is hard to not wonder if there is any rivalry between these ships and the other naval vessels, such as destroyers and cruisers.
When asked about a friendly rivalry between ships, all Commanding Officer Brian Sparks had to say is “(We) can settle any talk of rivalry with a speed race,” which the USS Santa Barbara would probably win.
An ICLCS has a full speed of 40-plus knots and can stop from full speed in only 600 yards, and according to Commanding Officer Sparks, the USS Santa Barbara “can spin around on a dime.”
Another interesting aspect of the USS Santa Barbara is that it’s easy to forget you’re on a ship.
A big part of this is because the USS Santa Barbara was designed with the sailors in mind. Although people still have to watch their step and watch their head in certain places, the USS Santa Barbara does not feel as cramped as you might expect. You can even walk through most of the hallways without fear of walking into something.
There are even some places for the sailors to sit during their watches (which is unusual for naval vessels). And there is a ship store that sells USS Santa Barbara merchandise, such as hats and snacks like honey buns and energy drinks.
Command Senior Chief Rose Thibodeaux emphasized these creature comforts may seem small, but they are very important for sailors wanting to keep their sanity during deployment, which can last for up to six months before a break.
This is where the Navy’s MWR program is very important. Standing for Morale, Welfare and Recreation, MWR provides various activities for the soldiers to enjoy.
Whether it’s providing board games or cornhole for leisure time, or providing exercise and weightlifting equipment to help the sailors stay in peak physical form, MWR provides a needed sense of normality.
Although the USS Santa Barbara’s story is just beginning, she is the product of countless hours of work and training put in by her engineers and crew. Like the city of Santa Barbara, the new ship is showing its resilience and determination.