The U.S. Navy has started construction of its first LCS (Littoral Combat Ship.) The navy now plans to build as many as a hundred of these ships. This will make the LCS class the most numerous warships in the fleet. LCS was originally meant for operations close to shore. But the LCS design has grown to the point where the LCS is no more capable of coastal operations than most other ships with the same displacement. No matter, the LCS features a number of major innovations. For one thing, it is highly automated, and has a crew of less than fifty. The LCS has a large cargo hold that can be quickly fitted with gear to turn it into a mine clearing ship, a submarine hunter, or just about anything (anti-aircraft, shore bombardment, commando support, or even command and control.) Each LCS also carries a Black Hawk size helicopter (MH-60), and has a hanger for it. There is also a water level dock for launching USV (Unmanned Surface Vehicles).
The LCS is fast, able to sprint at speeds as high as 90 kilometers an hour. At that speed, the LCS has a range of 2,700 kilometers. Cruising speed is 36 kilometers an hour, which provides a range of 7,700 kilometers. However, the LCS only carries supplies for 21 days, and fuel for, at most, nine days of cruising. However, the LCS can be replenished at sea. This situation is not much different than what ships of similar size, World War II destroyers, had to deal with when at sea.
There are actually two competing designs, one from General Dynamics (GD), and the other from Lockheed Martin (LockMart). The first LCS being built is the LockMart design, which looks rather conventional. The GD design is a three hull (trimaran) design. The first LCS will be launched next year, and enter service in 2007. The second LCS will be one of the GD design, which will enter service in 2008. Two of each design will be built, with the last of them entering service in 2009. A year or two after that, the navy will decide which design to go with. The LockMart design is the safe one, employing the familiar single hull. But the trimaran design shows much promise, and several smaller test ships have been operating for the past few years. The two GD trimaran LCS ships will be the acid test, competing directly against the LockMart ships.
Actually, the LCS is the new small warship for the American fleet. A century ago, this was the 1,000 ton destroyer. Sixty years ago, it was the 1,500 ton frigate (or even smaller corvette). For the past sixty years, the frigate has been considered the smallest warship. Anything smaller was considered some kind of a coastal patrol ship. Frigates have since grown to 3-5,000 tons. The LCS will be 2,500-3,000 tons, about the size of late World War II destroyers. The LockMart ships is 378 feet long, the GD one, 400 feet. The ships are stealthy, cost about $220 million each, and will be built at the rate of five a year once the final design is selected.