Surface Forces: LCS 1 Goes To Sea


July 30, 2008: The US Navy's first "Littoral Combat Ship" (LCS), the USS Freedom (LCS 1), began sea trials on July 28th.  Three years ago, when construction began on LCS 1, it was to displace 2,500 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 was to be over 80 kilometers with a range of 2,700 kilometers. The 378 foot long ship still has the range and top speed it was designed for. Basic endurance is 21 days.

Built using "smartship" technologies, which greatly reduce personnel requirements, the basic LCS was expected to require a crew of about 50 in basic configuration, but will have billeting for about 75 personnel. The sea trials will give the smartship features a workout. These sea trials are very important, because the LCS is over budget, behind schedule and, worst of all, an untried new concept.

The LCS 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.

There are actually two different LCS designs, a semi-planning monohull from        Lockheed-Martin and a trimaran from General Dynamics. LCS 1 was laid down by Lockheed Martin in Marinette, Wisconsin, in June of 2005 and was expected to be commissioned in 2007, after months of sea tests in late 2006.

LCS 2 was laid down by General Dynamics in late 2005. These, and LCS 3 and LCS 4, were to be built by Lockheed and General Dynamics, respectively. These were essentially prototypes, and serial procurement was expected to begin this year, after initial design flaws had been worked out. Ultimately, the Navy hoped to have between 50 and 60 LCSs by 2014-18, at a cost of $90 million each.

As it turned out, there were a lot of problems. The USS Freedom ended up costing $500 million, about twice what the first ship in the class was supposed to have cost. Only one of each type of LCS will be built now, and the one that performs the best will become the model for the entire class. LCS 1 ended up displacing 2,900 tons, and most observers in 2005 believed that it would end up closer to 3,000 tons, than 2,500.

The initial sea trials (being conducted on Lake Michigan), are expected to be completed by the end of the year. After that, the ship will head for its home port, San Diego, but only if the sea trials demonstrate that LCS works.


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