Ten years ago when the U.S. Navy awarded the contract to build the first littoral combat ship (LCS), former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark stated, “LCS will deliver capabilities to enable our Navy to dominate in this critical littoral region. These ships will be a vital component of tomorrow’s carrier strike groups and expeditionary strike groups. We need this ship today.”
In the 10 years since the contract award, the Lockheed Martin-led industry team has designed, built and delivered two ships and supported the first-in-class on her maiden deployment. Currently, six additional ships are under construction, and the Navy is preparing to deploy USS Fort Worth later this year.
The fast, agile and lethal platform has delivered a wealth of capabilities and proven performance to meet the Navy’s evolving needs. As the maritime landscape changes, the LCS can adapt to counter emerging threats. Its modular design enables the Navy to add new capabilities that boost the platform’s lethality and survivability. And it hosts affordable, proven combat systems to ensure the safety of the sailors who will take the ship into harm’s way.
Freedom Forges the Path Ahead
Since deploying nearly two years early, the nation’s first LCS, USS Freedom, has sailed more than 115,000 nautical miles that provided the Navy with valuable insight on the ship class’s capabilities and design.
In 2010, USS Freedom deployed with the Fourth Fleet in the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility and successfully seized more than five tons of cocaine in four drug interdictions. During her first deployment, USS Freedom also participated in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) multinational maritime exercise that built relationships with partners and allies worldwide.
Following a successful first deployment, USS Freedom deployed again in 2013, this time to Southeast Asia, for ten months with the Seventh Fleet in the U.S. Pacific Command area of responsibility. USS Freedom patrolled the South China Sea, provided humanitarian aid and participated in the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) and Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT), where her success grew to an international level.
Future LCS Fleet Improvements
As the Navy collected data from USS Freedom deployments, the Lockheed Martin industry team incorporated changes into the follow-on hulls under construction at Marinette Marine Corporation in Marinette, Wisconsin. The changes in follow-on ships include increased fuel efficiency and speed; increased interoperability in satellite communications; an easier launch recovery and handling system; and enhanced waterjets.
While integrating improvements, the industry team is also driving down cost per ship for the U.S. Navy. Currently in peak production, the average ship cost across the Navy’s 10-ship buy is at $360 million, which well below the Congressionally-mandated cost cap.
Full Speed Ahead
The Lockheed Martin-led industry team is responding to the Navy’s request for an alternate or evolved LCS design for a small surface combatant with options that increase the survivability and lethality of the ship. The team had already created designs which have been marketed internationally, and interest from other countries could help offset the cost of the domestic program.
“We have a design that is highly flexible,” said Joe North, vice president of Littoral Ship Systems at Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Training business. “The Freedom-class LCS is an upgradable, revolutionary surface combatant that has proven its capabilities, and has been the basis for several mature designs that the team already developed for consideration by navies worldwide. We have a path to enhance the current design as early as 2017.”
The options for modifying the LCS offer a low risk, affordable approach that takes advantage of the Navy’s significant investments in the program, as well as Lockheed Martin’s existing supply chain and efficient production process. By modifying the current platform, upgrades to the LCS platform could be integrated quickly and efficiently to support the U.S. Navy.