by Rear Adm. Brian K. Antonio
Program Executive Officer for Littoral Combat Ships
On November 21st, the U.S. Navy commissioned its newest warship into the fleet – the littoral combat ship USS Milwaukee (LCS 5), fifth of 52 planned small surface combatants designed to project U.S. presence and power in near-shore environments as well as open-ocean operations.
The LCS program is picking up speed, with an average of four new ships entering the fleet every year for the next several years. In fact, between now and 2018 – the length of a standard Navy tour of duty – the LCS program will achieve several key milestones that demonstrate the amazing progress and potential of these warships.
At this very moment, halfway around the world, Milwaukee’s sister ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) is plying the waters in and around the South China Sea, about midway through a scheduled 16-month deployment. Fort Worth’s Sailors boldly and voluntarily stand the watch, providing the presence and surface warfare capability critical to our Navy’s mission, and ensuring freedom of navigation for all who sail international waters. By 2018, both LCS variants will be routinely operating in this part of the world, with as many as four LCS on station at any given time.
LCS and its mission packages provide combatant commanders the focused mission ability to counter anti-access shallow water threats such as small boats, submarines and mines. The initial phase of the surface warfare mission package completed testing in 2014 and is deployed overseas today on USS Fort Worth. We continue to develop and test, in an operationally realistic environment, those systems that will bring added capability to these incredible ships, including the mine countermeasures (MCM) and antisubmarine warfare (ASW) mission packages.
Recognizing that small surface combatants will represent one-sixth of our future 300-ship Navy, Defense and Navy leaders determined that future LCS could support enhanced lethality and survivability capabilities without significant cost, a testament to the flexible and modular design of the LCS. This modified LCS, called a frigate (FF), will leverage the success of the existing LCS design, but will be a multi-mission vessel capable of performing surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare missions simultaneously. The first frigate is expected to be under contract in Fiscal Year 2019.
In the meantime, the LCS shipbuilders in Marinette, Wisconsin and Mobile, Alabama will continue to build 32 ships of the current LCS design. By 2018, the last of these LCS will be under construction, meaning that we will have put 32 ships under construction in a span of only 13 years – an impressive feat for U.S. Navy shipbuilding.
USS Milwaukee is the fifth LCS to enter the fleet, and the number of these ships is scaling up fast. The maintenance, logistics, and training pipelines to support this LCS fleet are likewise rapidly expanding to meet expected operational needs. By 2018, the LCS class will be the second largest surface Navy ship class behind the DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
LCS is a proven fleet asset. Collectively, the LCS class has over 210,000 nautical miles of water under the keel since the 2008 delivery of USS Freedom (LCS 1). Through operational testing in realistic scenarios and over the course of three deployments, the LCS and its mission packages have demonstrated the ability to meet specific, real-world requirements for our combatant commanders. The crew of the USS Milwaukee and the citizens of its namesake city have many reasons to be proud of their ship, as do I.