Austal has laid the keel for the US Navy’s future USNS Billy Frank Jr. (T-ATS 11) Navajo-class Towing, Salvage and Rescue Ship in Mobile, Alabama.
The ship will serve as the navy’s eleventh T-ATS platform and sixth of its Navajo-class fleet.
Announced in July 2023, the Billy Frank Jr. was named after a Nisqually Tribesman who served as a US Marine Corps officer during the Korean War, treaty rights advocate, and environmental leader.
Frank was a member of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission for more than three decades, receiving a Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award and the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism.
President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Frank a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
“The future Billy Frank Jr.’s keel laying marks the beginning of the construction journey for this ship,” US Navy Auxiliary and Special Mission Shipbuilding Program Manager John Lighthammer stated.
“It is an honor to be joined by members of the Nisqually Tribe and we look forward to the partnership as we highlight their heritage.”
US Navy Navajo Fleet
Navajo T-ATS vessels are designed for fleet operations support. Each has a length of 263 feet (80 meters), a 59-foot (18-meter) beam, and a capacity for 65 personnel.
The class features capabilities from the aging Safeguard-class (T-ARS 50) rescue and salvage ships and the Powhatan-class (T-ATF 166) fleet ocean tugboats.
In addition, the Navajo vessels incorporate a standard hull capable of towing various naval platforms and a deck spanning 6,000 square feet (557 square meters) for landing and other mission-specific requirements.
The vessels are powered by two Wartsila engines for a maximum speed of 15 knots (28 kilometers/17 miles per hour).
Alongside military deployments, the Navajo class will be employed for humanitarian assistance, oil spill response, and wide-area surveillance tasks.
The US Navy is currently engaged with Austal to develop four additional Navajo ships (T-ATS 12 to 15).
Gulf Island Fabrication and Bollinger Shipyards are also working on five Navajo vessels (T-ATS 6 to 10) for the service.