Surface Forces: Third LCS Ordered

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July 9, 2006: The U.S. Navy has ordered a third LCS (Littoral Combat Ship). This one will be built by Lockheed-Martin, with construction beginning in about six months. Delivery will be some time in 2009. There are actually two different LCS designs, a semi-planning monohull from Lockheed-Martin and a trimaran from General Dynamics. The first LCS was laid down by Lockheed Martin in Marinette, Wisconsin, in June of 2005 and is expected to be commissioned in 2007, after several months of sea tests, beginning in late 2006. LCS 2 was laid down in late 2005. These, and LCS 3 and LCS 4, to be built by Lockheed and General Dynamics, respectively, are essentially prototypes, and serial procurement will probably not begin before 2008, when initial design flaws will have been worked out. One of the two designs may be selected for the rest of the LCS class, or, perhaps, there will be two sub-types. Ultimately, the Navy hopes to have between 50 and 60 LCSs by the middle of the next decade.
The Littoral Combat Ship is, simultaneously, revolutionary, and a throwback. The final LCS design is to displace about 3,000 tons, with a full load draft of under ten feet, permitting access to very shallow "green" and even "brown" coastal and riverine waters, where most naval operations have taken place in the past generation. Top speed is expected to be over 80 kilometers an hour, with a range of 2,700 kilometers. Built using "smartship" technologies, which greatly reduce personnel requirements, the basic LCS is expected to require a crew of about 50 in basic configuration, but will have accommodations for about 75 personnel. The ship is designed for a variety of interchangeable modules (e.g., air defense, underwater warfare, special operations, surface attack, etc.), which will allow the ships to be quickly reconfigured for various specialized missions. Crews will also be modularized, so that specialized teams can be swapped in to operate specific modules.
In many respects, the LCS is a throwback to ship developments a century ago. The LCS is a cheap, short range, heavily armed jack-of-all trades warship. That's what the first destroyers were, when they appeared a century ago. Another throwback angle is the price, and the way it historically creeps upward. Currently, the navy expects to pay about $310 million per LCS (more than three times the initial "estimate.")

 


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