The US Navy authorized the first cutting of aluminium for the sixth littoral combat ship, the future USS Jackson (LCS 6), at Austal’s Modular Manufacturing facility in Mobile, Alabama.
The “first cut”, which occurred on the first of the month, is a significant ship construction milestone, signifying the ship’s progression from design drawings to the beginning of a tangible form.
“The littoral combat ship is a key part of our future fleet and demands the very best skill and effort from government and industry teams,” said Programme Executive Officer for Littoral Combat Ships (PEO LCS) Rear Admiral James Murdoch. “The commencement of production of LCS 6 marks another significant milestone in the program, and demonstrates the efficiency benefits of our ‘block buy’ arrangements with the ship builders. These fixed-price contracts ensure cost efficiency in the program and best value for the taxpayer.”
Meanwhile, a Lockheed Martin-led industry team is preparing the third LCS, Fort Worth, to start sea trials in the third quarter of this year.
Fort Worth, the second ship of the Freedom variant of the LCS program, was christened in December last year. (The US Navy is building the Freedom class and Independent class LCS vessels.) Now more than 93% complete, Fort Worth remains on cost and on schedule, according to Lockheed Martin. Builder and acceptance trials are scheduled early in the third quarter in advance of delivering the ship to the U.S. Navy early next year.
USS Freedom, the United States’ first littoral combat ship, has completed preparations for upcoming final contractor trials. Trials include testing of the surface warfare mission package and the deck landing qualifications of the Sikorsky MH-60R Sea Hawk helicopter to ensure safe and reliable interoperability between the aircraft and ship. Since its commissioning in November 2008, the ship has sailed 55,000 nautical miles.
The Littoral Combat Ship is a key element of the Navy’s plan to address asymmetric threats of the 21st century. Intended to operate in coastal areas, the ships are fast, highly manoeuvrable and geared to supporting mine detection/elimination, anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare, particularly against small surface craft.
LCS designs are slightly smaller than the US Navy’s guided missile frigates (the Navy ultimately wants to replace 30 FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates, 14 MCM Avenger class mine countermeasures vessels and 12 MHC-51 Osprey class coastal mine hunters with about 55 littoral combat ships). The LCS class has also been likened to corvettes of other navies but the LCS designs add the capabilities of a small assault transport with a flight deck and hangar large enough to base two SH-60 Seahawk helicopters, the capability to recover and launch small boats from a stern ramp, and enough cargo volume and payload to deliver a small assault force with armoured fighting vehicles to a roll-on/roll-off port facility.
The standard armament for the LCS is the Mk 110 57 mm gun, with a firing rate of up to 220 rounds/minute. Mk 295 ammunition allows the system to perform against aerial, surface or ground threats. The ship will also carry .50 (12.7mm) machine guns, plus defensive systems including automated chaff/flare dispensers and a Raytheon RIM-116 RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile) launcher integrated into an upgraded version of the MK 15 Phalanx gun system’s radar & IR sensors.
The Navy’s first trimaran LCS, Independence (LCS 2), was commissioned in Mobile, Alabama, in January last year. Independence is a 127 m aluminium trimaran with a displacement of 2800 metric tons, It is capable of speeds in excess of 45 knots, and can operate in water less than 20 feet deep. Propelled by four water jets in addition to two diesel and two gas turbine engines, the ship boasts a range of over 3500 nautical miles.