Littoral combat ships remain one of the top priorities for Navy leadership.
The program has had stable requirements since the capabilities definition document was first approved by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council in 2004.
There is and continues to be discussion on changes to the ships and mission packages. This is by design; the program is fundamentally about the ability to deliver changes and improvements to fielded capability. However, the key performance parameters and the requirements have been fundamentally unchanged and stable for a decade.
LCS fills current capability gaps for the Joint Force in the littorals and is a balanced force, structured to defeat adversaries in times of war and maintain a sizeable, continuous naval presence across the globe. Upon reaching full operational capability, LCS will deliver more mission capability in mine countermeasures, surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare than our current mine countermeasure, coast patrol and frigates ships with the added advantage of being rapidly reconfigurable across the three mission areas at a reduced cost.
The Navy plans to buy 52 LCS in accordance with our long-range shipbuilding plan – continuing the remainder of the block buy ships through FY 2015 (up to hull number 24) and then starting the next procurement contract in FY 2016. To date, the Navy has taken delivery of USS Freedom (LCS 1), USS Independence (LCS 2) and USS Fort Worth (LCS 3).
Both LCS shipyards have invested considerable resources into facility improvement and have rapidly incorporated lessons learned from construction of Freedom, Independence and Fort Worth. LCS 4 (Coronado) is scheduled to be delivered in September 2013. LCS 5 through 8 — Milwaukee, Jackson, Detroit, and Montgomery — will be delivered by the end of FY15.
Freedom continues to perform well on her deployment to Southeast Asia. Instead of working out the kinks near her homeport of San Diego, this first-of-class ship has been conducting purposeful, forward presence while her crew of 91 captures valuable lessons learned for incorporation in future LCS construction and deployments.
Despite initial maintenance issues, Freedom has met every deployment milestone including departing San Diego and arriving in Singapore on time, debuting at the International Maritime Defence and Exhibition conference, hosting visitors during the Shangri-La dialogues, and participating in the Malaysia phase of the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training exercise series.
During CARAT Malaysia, Freedom accomplished many firsts for the ship and the LCS program:
- During the underway phase, Freedom operated alongside USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) to complete a series of maneuvers and exercises with the Royal Malaysian Navy’s guided missile frigate KD Jebat, as well as the offshore patrol vessel KD Kelantan.
- A Malaysian navy helicopter became the first foreign aircraft to land on Freedom during deck qualifications.
- The ship’s embarked visit, board, search and seizure team – part of the maritime security module – boarded KD Jebat during maritime security drills.
- Freedom and her embarked MH-60R helicopter participated in a combined anti-submarine warfare exercise.
CARAT Malaysia marked Freedom’s first-ever operational experience with partner nations and the vessel’s performance at-sea drew praise from both participating navies. Capt. Abdul Halim Bin Hj Shaari, KD Jebat’s commanding officer, said, “The ship itself is fantastic. My boarding team went aboard and they learned a lot. The opportunity to command that type of ship would be great.”
LCS 2 and 3 Fleet Testing and Evaluation
LCS 2 conducted two iterations of calm water trials, which are high-speed maneuvers to test the ship’s stability. The crew also supported a human systems integration study, conducted to determine the ease of shipboard equipment and how Sailors respond in a combat environment to include crew rest/sleep time. They exercised detect-to-engage scenarios, and were certified in their proficiency to land helicopters and conduct crash and salvage operations. In May, the ship underwent a week-long planned maintenance availability. The ship also is preparing for INSURV special trials and had the ship’s engineering systems verified for proper alignment/operation and technical documentation.
Forth Worth is the next LCS slated to deploy, planned for mid-to-late 2014. After almost two months in drydock undergoing a planned shakedown availability, LCS 3 returned pierside July 2 and will complete the planned shakedown availability by the end of the month. Following sea trials, she will enter a regimen of underway periods for testing and proficiency. Prior to the planned shakedown availability, LCS 3 embarked Freedom’s Blue Crew for deployment training in preparation for this summer’s crew swap in Singapore with LCS 1 Gold Crew.
Production of LCS mission packages continues to pace LCS ship construction and meet needs associated with mission package testing, crew training and operational deployments of LCS ships. Developmental testing is underway for the mine countermeasures and surface warfare mission packages. Testing performed to date on individual mission systems and the mission package has shown that the Increment I Surface Warfare – which will reach Initial Operating Capability aboard Forth Worth in spring 2014 – and the mine countermeasures mission package will meet their requirements. The Mine Countermeasures Mission Package Increment I already provides approximately twice the coverage rate of legacy systems.