SAN DIEGO -- The U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship will deploy with an unmanned aircraft system on board for the first time when the USS Fort Worth leaves here next week on deployment to the Pacific region, service officials said.
The Fort Worth, or LCS 3, will soon deploy with what’s called a surface warfare mission-equipment package – a collection of integrated on-board technologies including 11-meter rigid inflatable boats, 30mm machine guns, MH-60R helicopters and the MQ-8B Fire Scout, a helicopter-like vertical take-off-and-landing drone.
“This first time we’re bringing Fire Scout into the equation and matching it up with a manned helicopter squadron. The same pilots that fly an MH-60 helicopter can fly a mission, land on deck, come inside the ship and launch the Fire Scout and do another mission. It brings us a lot more flexibility,” said Capt. Ken Bridgewater, commanding officer of the USS Fort Worth.
With a range up to 100 miles, the Fire Scout UAS uses electro-optical/infrared sensors send a live video stream back to a command center on-board the ship, Bridgewater said.
“The Fire Scout has a lot longer endurance so you can keep it up in the air a lot longer than we can keep a traditional manned MH-60. It gives us more loitering time on station to help build that maritime picture,” he added.
The surface warfare package will make full use of the USS Fort Worth’s flight deck, a landing area on the back of the ship which is larger than the deck space on current destroyers and cruisers.
The USS Fort Worth will first travel to Singapore as a first stop on a deployment throughout various parts of the Pacific. While on deployment, the Fort Worth will participate in an annual multi-national training exercise called Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training, or CARAT.
“The ship itself is going to operate out of Singapore as a logistics hub for an extended period of time. We will do three crew swaps, however, so that the crews don’t get over taxed as they are doing operations,” he said. “We are going to be operating extensively through the South China Sea region, Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, southern Asia for an extended period of time. We’re going to be an actively engaged and employed vessel in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility.”
The first LCS to deploy, the USS Freedom, traveled to Singapore and the Pacific last year. Many of the problems experienced on this first deployment have been addressed through “fixes” made to the USS Fort Worth and subsequent LCS models.
For example, the Fort Worth is engineered with improved diesel generators, a new air compressor and is now built with special metal coating in certain areas to reduce the risk of salt-water corrosion, said Capt. Randy Garner, commodore of the squadron, USS Fort Worth.
Each of these “fixes” were put in place following problems experienced on the deployment of the USS Freedom.
“We’ve taken advantage of Freedom’s deployment and Freedom’s operations. We’ve incorporated lessons learned from that hull into this hull. There are over 400 improvements that have been made for Fort Worth just like the USS Milwaukee, LCS 5, has receive improvements from this design,” Garner added.
The LCS ships are constructed in two separate variants called Freedom variants and Independence variants. The Freedom variants are built with a flat-bottomed, semi-planing monohull and the Independence variants are engineered with a trimaran hull designed for low hydrodynamic drag. Both variants are engineered for high-speed littoral operations involving mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare and surface warfare.
Apart from what’s added to the ship with the surface warfare mission equipment package, the USS Fort Worth is equipped with a Rolling Airframe Missile for ship defense, 50-cal. Machines guns, torpedoes and a 57mm gun weapons system.
The 387-foot long LCS is designed to reach speeds up to 40 knots and perform a wide range of missions. The ship is built with four main propulsion engines, two diesel and two gas turbine engines.
“We have two outboard shafts that are maneuverable. They are steerable water jets. We also have two in-board shafts to give us additional speed,” Bridgewater said.
With a crew of 54 sailors, the LCS is designed to be small, fast and maneuverable; the ship uses its 15-foot shallow draft to access strategically important areas such as allied ports and waterways which larger Navy vessels such as cruisers and destroyers are too large to enter, Navy officials said.
The LCS has been certified as an official part of a carrier strike group.
“Carriers are not going to go into a lot of areas where there is a shallow draft, but they might want somebody else to,” Garner added.
Bridgewater also added that the smaller size of the LCS, compared with larger cruisers and destroyers, makes it more compatible for exercises with ships from various allied nations.