More than do the other military services, the U.S. Navy’s public image seems to rest on past conflicts. Americans generally have two pictures of the Navy: the first is from the Pacific theater in World War II, when immense carrier task groups dominated the oceans and supported amphibious invasions of enemy territory; the second is from the nuclear age, when ballistic missile submarines spent weeks below the surface, ready to destroy continents.
A New Fleet—LCSs
The Navy’s answer is the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), a small surface vessel designed for operations close to seacoasts. The Navy’s procurement plan, initiated in 2002, actually involves two different designs: the Freedom-class produced by Lockheed Martin and the Independence-class designed by General Dynamics. These ships are smaller than the Navy’s Perry-class guided missile frigates, which are rapidly moving into obsolescence, and are similar in concept to corvette (light frigate) designs that are in wide use by smaller navies and coast guards around the world.
LCSs are, however, more capable because they contain flight decks and hangars for two SH-60 Seahawk helicopters and well decks and stern ramps for handling amphibious vehicles—they can function as small assault transports. The ships will function in mine, surface and anti-submarine warfare roles with next-generation U.S. destroyer and cruiser designs—the DDG 1000 now in low-rate production and the CG(X)—though the new cruiser has been slated for cancellation in the defense budget recently sent to Congress.
Two contracting teams have produced very different designs for the LCS fleet projected to number 55 ships. A Lockheed Martin team built the USS Freedom (LCS-1) at Marinette Marine in Marinette, Wisconsin. The LCS-1, commissioned in November 2008, is the prototype for Lockheed’s Freedom-class design. Lockheed is producing the second of the type, the USS Forth Worth (LCS-3), at Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, Louisiana. The Lockheed concept utilizes a semiplaning steel monohull with an aluminum deck house.
A team headed by General Dynamics is building the Independence-class design, the USS Independence (LCS-2) commissioned in January 2010, and the USS Coronado (LCS-4) by utilizing an aluminum trimaran hull at the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Alabama. The two designs have different combat systems and will contain reconfigurable mission packages—modules for mine countermeasures and anti-submarine or surface warfare. The LCS-2 and LCS-4 feature maximum speeds well in excess of 40 knots. With both prototypes in service, down-select for the winning concept should occur this year—the winning contractor’s shipyard will build another 10 vessels through 2014. A second competition will select another shipyard to build five more LCSs in the winning design, and then these two facilities will compete for future production contracts until the program is complete a decade or more later.