United States
November 14, 2023

Austal USA celebrates keel laying for the future USNS Billy Frank, Jr. (T-ATS 11)

MOBILE, Ala. – Austal USA celebrated the official start of construction on the future USNS Billy Frank, Jr., the Navy’s eleventh Towing, Salvage and Rescue Ship (T-ATS 11), with a keel laying ceremony today at the company’s Mobile, Ala. ship manufacturing facility.  Ship sponsor Peggen Frank and her husband, William Frank III, authenticated the keel by welding their initials into a keel plate that will be welded to the hull of the ship.  They were assisted by Brandon Auld, a four-year Austal USA veteran A-class structural fitter.

Keel laying is the formal recognition of the start of a ship's construction.  The keel laying symbolically recognizes module erection in final assembly at Austal USA and the ceremonial beginning of a ship.

“Austal USA is excited to recognize this major milestone for our team on the construction of our first T-ATS vessel,” said Dave Growden, vice president of new construction. “Quality work performed on this ship demonstrates Austal USA’s capability and capacity to build both aluminum and steel ships.” 

Local community leaders, Austal USA employees, Navy personnel, and tribal leaders and members representing six northwest Native American tribes all attended the ceremony today. 

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 U.S. Marine Corps.  Frank, from the state of Washington, later became an activist who fought for justice and environmental preservation.  During his distinguished career, Bill Frank, Jr. served as chair of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission for almost three decades and was honored with numerous awards including the Common Cause Award for Human Rights Efforts, the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism, the American Indian Distinguished Service Award, the 2006 Wallace Stegner Award, and the Washington State Environmental Excellence Award.  He was posthumously named a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2015.

T-ATS 11 will provide ocean-going towing, salvage and rescue capabilities to support fleet operations. T-ATS will be a multi-mission common hull platform capable of towing U.S. Navy ships and will have 6,000 square feet of deck space for embarked systems. The large, unobstructed deck allows for the embarkation of a variety of stand-alone and interchangeable systems. 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-ATS will be able to 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.

The future USNS Billy Frank, Jr. is one of two T-ATS vessels under construction at Austal USA with three more under contract. 

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