By Charles Chapman, December 3, 2019

Construction has begun on what will be the T-ATS 6, also known as the USNS Navajo, the lead ship of an entirely new line of vessels that will round out the United States Navy’s fleet. Where the previous T-ATF 166 and T-ARS 50 used to provide support to the US Military Sealift, this new vessel will be the flagship of the United States Navy’s Navajo-class line.

Navajo-class vessels, of which the USNS Navajo is the first, will proffer 6,000 square feet of total deck space with a load capacity of 1,796 tons. At 263 feet in length, the vessel will be capable of towing ocean-going vessels, assisting in salvage and aiding submarine rescue missions. The design is, overall, based upon designs of several other commercial towing vessels currently in operation within the US Navy and elsewhere, with a few adjustments and improvements to create a more effective design.

The motto, created with the help of the Navajo Nation Council, Navajo Navy veterans and Miss Jocelyn Billy, is Iiná yiich’áá’ nidabaahí bilį’į’, meaning ‘the vessel of the protectors of life.’ In keeping with the intent of the USNS Navajo and the name of the ship, it is written in the Navajo language and is included on a crest featuring a horned toad on a shield. Designed to beautifully and powerfully reflect the culture and the legacy of the Navajo people, the crest and motto are to be inscribed on the side of the ship.

The ship is so named as a recognition of the contributions of the Navajo people to the armed forces of the United States. Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer, published a press release expressing the importance and the sacrifice of the Navajo people in “nearly every major conflict since the birth of our nation.” Therefore, it was only fitting that they receive the honor of a ship and a class named for their people. Likewise, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez expressed the support and the protection the Diné people have put forth to aid the armed services and that this is an honor that they are very grateful for.

Building the USNS Navajo

On October 30, 2019, the authentication of the keel was executed by Jocelyn Billy, a former Miss Navajo and the sponsor of the project. Tradition dictates that a new ship be authenticated at an official ceremony to mark the start of the construction process with the sponsor etching their initials into the keel to verify that it is laid true. This is only the beginning of a large-scale celebration carried out to mark the commencement of the project and the work to be done.

Several prominent individuals were present to witness the event, including two Navajo Code Talkers, the speaker of the Navajo Nation Council and several representatives of the Navajo and Diné Nation. The project is one that was advanced fervently by Navajo Nation Speaker LoRenzo Bates and US Senator John McCain beginning in 2014 and 2015 and was finally announced in 2019 by Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer.

At a cost of $63.5 million, the ship is intended to be completed by March of 2021, though it is unknown at what point the ship will actually be ready to go into service. Work will be conducted in Houma, Louisiana, the home base of Gulf Island Fabrication, Inc., who has won the contract to create the first vessel, and potentially the remainder, of the class.

There is also an option within the contract to create a total of eight vessels, which includes the USNS Navajo. Each will be named for Native American people and tribes, including the USNS Cherokee Nation and the USNS Saginaw Ojibwe Anishinabek. The USNS Cherokee Nation and USNS Saginaw Ojibwe Anishinabek will also be constructed in Houma and are set to be completed by 2021. The remainder of the names are yet to be agreed upon and announced to the general public, however these will likely be released as the earlier ships are completed and new work is begun.


Charles Chapman manages the Jefferson, LA branch of Ameri-Force. Charles has worked in staffing since 2006 and is an experienced Human Resource Specialist with a proven track record of successes in management, sales, operations, and logistics. Charles holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English and History from the University of North Texas.

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