Surface Forces: January 19, 2004

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The U.S. Navy is developing a new generation of surface combat ships, the first "21st century ships." The most original of these are the LCS (Littoral Combat Ship), and the first of these is expected to be operational (at least for testing) in three years. A new class of destroyers and cruisers are in the works, but are not as innovative and affordable as the LCS. All three classes of ships will have smaller crews and more automation. The main reason for this is to bring down operating costs. Currently, it costs $34 million a year to operate a Spruance class destroyer, $19 million for a Perry class frigate, $26 billion for a Burke class destroyer and $35 million for a Ticonderoga class cruiser. The Spruance is expensive because it has proved to be an unreliable and high maintenance design. The next class of destroyer is aiming for $20 million a year to operate, while the next cruiser will be $27 million, and the LCS $14 million. The big savings will come from smaller crews. Instead of 300-400 sailors for current destroyers and cruisers, the navy is hoping to get by with fewer than a hundred per LCS. 

The LCS is actually a destroyer designed to operate close to shore and will be equipped with different removable modules (for mine hunting, air defense, or whatever). It's expected to operate a helicopter (for the mine hunting), so this means it will be a 2,000-3,000 ton ship. That's the size of a World War II destroyer, or a contemporary frigate. Current American destroyers are close to 10,000 tons, and the next class is expected to be larger than that (and not much smaller than the new "cruiser.") Thus the LCS ship will be expensive, for it's size, to operate. This is partly because of the different modules (large, shipping container shaped items that are lowered, by crane, into openings in the deck of the ship) for different tasks. It's believed that some specialist sailors would be assigned to each module. There would be 20-30 percent more modules than those needed to keep all available LCS ships fully equipped. But with more operations seen along coasts, the LCSs are expected to be kept busy for the next several decades.

 


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