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New Littoral Combat Ships Reach Freeway Speeds

New Littoral Combat Ships Reach Freeway Speeds

The USS Independence and the USS Freedom, the Navy’s new littoral combat ships…

Back in 2003-2004, the Navy awarded several development contracts for a new littoral (close to shore) combat ship (LCS). In 2008, two ships were delivered, and they’ve gone head-to-head ever since.

The pair of new ships, the USS Independence and the USS Freedom, both break speed limitations that typically plague ships of a similar size.

USS Independence LCS

USS Independence LCS

The Independence, built in Alabama by Maine’s Bath Iron Works, a subsidiary of General Dynamics, boasts a top speed in excess of 45 knots/52 mph and sustained full speed for four hours during trials off the Gulf Coast. The Freedom, built in Wisconsin by Lockheed Martin, performed equally as well.

Both versions of the LCS use powerful diesel engines, as well as gas turbines for extra speed. They use steerable water jets and have shallower drafts than conventional warships, allowing them to get closer to the shore.

Both ships are built to accommodate helicopters and mission “modules” for either anti-submarine missions, mine removal or traditional surface warfare. The goal is for the modules to be swapped out in 24 hours, and no later than 96 hours, allowing the ships to adapt quickly to new missions, said Cmdr. Victor Chen, a Navy spokesman.

Independence is a 419-foot aluminum trimaran, the first of its design in the surface fleet. It has a displacement of 2,800 metric tons, is capable of speeds in excess of 45 knots/52 mph, has a range of over 3,500 nautical miles, and can operate in water less than 20 feet deep.

Independence was christened by Mrs. Doreen Scott, wife of the 10th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, Terry Scott, in Mobile, Ala. on Oct. 4, 2008. The ship completed builder’s sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico, and was delivered to the Navy on Dec. 18, 2009.

USS Freedom LCS

USS Freedom LCS

The USS Freedom is a semi-planing steel monohull ship with an aluminum superstructure. It is measures feet (115 m) in length, displaces 3,000 metric tons (2950 metric tons) and can also reach speeds in excess of 45 knots/52 mph.
The USS Freedom was christened on 23 September 2006, delivered to the Navy on 18 September 2008, and commissioned in Milwaukee on 8 November.

Freedom is currently readying for her maiden deployment, accelerated approximately two years. The Navy expects to learn key operational lessons about Freedom in a deployment setting, and to integrate those lessons into the larger LCS fleet, projected to eventually reach 55 ships.

The Navy has announced its next bidding process for FY2010; three more LCSs – the winner building two, the loser only one. Eventually the Navy wants fleet 55 strong, so the stakes are extremely high in the race to become the Navy’s top LCS.

Speed has long been relished by Navy skippers. Capt. John Paul Jones, sometimes described as father of the U.S. Navy, summed it up this way in 1778:

“I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast; for I intend to go in harm’s way.”

Maritime enthusiasts may note that the new LCSs are not the fasted military ships afloat, nor can they outrun smaller ships with powerful engines. Nevertheless the speed for a vessel of such size is impressive to say the least, epically considering that other large Navy vessels have been cruising along at 30-35 knots for decades.

Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, noted that Independence sustained 44 knots despite a 30-knot headwind and 6- to 8-foot seas in Alabama’s Mobile Bay:

“For a ship of this size, it’s simply unheard of to sustain that rate of speed for four hours,”

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