SAN FRANCISCO -- The commanding officer of the USS Coronado (LCS-4) invited Military.com to tour the trimaran Littoral Combat Ship during the city's 35th annual Fleet Week celebration of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.
The first thing this correspondent noticed upon entering the ship's mission bay is that nearly every part of its interior is covered in shiny silver insulation that, as Cmdr. Peter Kim noted, is designed to shield the aluminum hull from fire.
Aluminum has a lower melting point than steel, but it's also much lighter, allowing the ship to sail at speeds of almost 50 knots -- one of many trade-offs engineers made to push the technological envelope of the ship, Kim said.
"This ship is all about finding efficiencies," he said. "We're really pushing the envelope on how you can do more with less."
For example, the vessel -- the second Independence-class LCS -- has total crew of about 90 sailors, including a core crew of about 50 sailors, a helicopter detachment of about 20 sailors and a surface warfare mission package of about 20 sailors, Kim said. By comparison, a cruiser or a destroyer require between 350 and 400 personnel, he said.
But with the smaller crew, all members must work hard and pull their own weight, Kim said. In the mess hall, sailors take turn on the serving line, wash their own dishes and bus their own trays, from the captain on down, he said.
The Navy plans to spend more than $29 billion on the Littoral Combat Ship acquisition program, including almost $22 billion for 32 ships (half of which will feature the trimaran design made by the Australian company Austal) and $7.5 billion for 64 mission modules, according to Pentagon budget documents. It's the latter where many of the cost increases and schedule delays in development have occurred.
The surface warfare (SuW) mission package is designed to enable the boat to fend off swarms of small boats attacking close to shore. It includes a 57mm main deck gun, twin 30mm Bushmaster cannons, an MH-60R Seahawk chopper, a pair of 11-meter-long rigid hull inflatable boats (RIBs), and a planned MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter drone and surface-to-surface missile.
It's one of three modular weapon systems that can be installed or removed as needed, depending on the mission. The others are mine countermeasures (MCM) and anti-submarine and anti-submarine warfare (ASW).
Rather than require multiple hose teams, the ship features an automated sprinkler system that disburses a very fine and highly pressurized mist to extinguish fires, Kim said. Just a couple of sailors could drop anchor on the Coronado -- a task that normally requires more than two dozen crew members on other ships, he said. And the bridge features rows of electronic displays that minimize, if not eliminate, the need for paper maps.
Since commissioning in 2014, the vessel has undergone testing, most recently off the coast of California, Kim said. "Our job this summer was to flex the entire ship -- see what works, see what doesn't," he said. "The ship performed very well."
Even so, there have been learning lessons. For example, officials have determined that about 50 crew are needed to operate the ship -- not about 40 as previously planned. Bridge wings were installed so crew could better monitor docking operations. Similarly, a makeshift PA system was added to the area because a more permanent sound system to the bridge wings hasn't been installed yet.
Kim said he envisions the Coronado, with its high speed and shallow draft, eventually performing humanitarian operations, or pairing with other Littoral Combat Ships and/or cruisers and destroyers for combat missions. "In the very near future, this is about to become the surface warfare platform of choice," he said. "I really do think these ships represent the future -- how we build, train and operate these ships."