The Navy's first littoral combat ship, the Freedom (LCS 1), got underway for the first time on 28 July. The first ship of a program that seeks some 55 advanced-technology ships for operations in coastal/littoral waters, the Freedom is being constructed on Lake Michigan by a team led by the Lockheed Martin Corp.
The Freedom and the competitive design, led by the Independence (LCS 2) built by a General Dynamics-led team, are noteworthy in being more than a year behind schedule and costing more than twice as much as originally estimated. The contract cost of these ships was to be on the order of $220 million -- plus the innovative "mission packages" that would be installed when they were ready for operations. The LCS 1 cost is now estimated at $550 million. And, it may be more before the ship is ready for delivery to the Navy later this year.
The delays and cost increases of the LCS program led to Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter cancelling the construction of LCS 3 and 4, to have been built by the Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics teams, respectively. The "mess" of the LCS program also led to the firing, reassignment, or resignation of several naval officers, including the Program Executive Officer for Ships, and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development, and Acquisition).
Subsequently the LCS 5 and LCS 6 were also cancelled in 2007 as the Navy sought to restructure the overall program. Under current plans, the Navy will procure:
FY 2008 1 LCSFY 2009 2 LCSFY 2010 3 LCSFY 2011 3 LCSFY 2012 4 LCSFY 2013 6 LCS
The Navy's program goal still calls for some 55 of these ships. Each ship will have a set of container-like modules and an MH-60 series helicopter plus unmanned vehicles (air, surface, and underwater), as well as associated surface craft in some configurations, that will comprise a mission package. In theory, these packages could be swapped between LCS hulls. Each LCS will have a core crew and a team of specialists will embark in each ship with the mission package.
At this time the Navy plans to procure 24 mine warfare packages (approximately $68 million each), 16 anti-submarine warfare packages ($42.3 million), and 24 surface warfare packages ($16.7 million). Thus, if all are procured, the Navy would have flexibility in swapping modules at U.S. ports or, if the packages are flown overseas, at forward ports.
After the Freedom and Independence complete their builder and sea trials, the Navy will decide wither to procure one or the other design, or a force mix of both designs.
The Freedom is now running builder trials, to be followed by Navy acceptance trails. The ship will displace 2,862 tons full load and is 378-feet long -- the size of a corvette or small frigate. The Navy, of course, could not accept such mundane designations for an innovative ship concept, and invented the LCS designation. Since the early 1940s "L" ships were landing ships (LSD, LSM, LST, etc.). Subsequently, from 1968-1969 all of the Navy's larger amphibious ships -- command ships, transports, cargo ships, and helicopter carriersc were also given "L" designations (LCC, LPA, LKA, LPH, LHA, etc.).
Thus, the LCS marks still another break with Navy designation procedures as well as with naval tradition. But then again, on several counts -- both good and bad -- the LCS concept itself is a break with tradition.