The US Navy Saturday commissioned its second littoral combat ship (LCS), the General Dynamics-Austal-built USS Independence, in Mobile, Alabama. Speaking at the ceremony US Senator Jeff Sessions called the Independence a “magnificent and transformative warship.”
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley, in a letter to the officers and crew, called it “innovative” and “revolutionary,” and said “the significance of this event … should not be underestimated.”
Chief of Naval Operations (the chief of the US Navy) Admiral Gary Roughead said the “LCS will have the capability…to secure the littoral regions upon which communities rely on for food, transportation and for their well-being, and to protect critical chokepoints in the global supply chain, to launch unmanned air, underwater and surface vehicles that will keep our trade at sea and our men and women ashore safe from harm.”
The first LCS, Lockheed Martin’s USS Freedom, was commissioned in November 2008. The US Navy will in due course make a choice between the two designs and order – at current projections – 53 more ships.
A single prime contractor and shipyard will be awarded a fixed price incentive contract this year for up to 10 ships with two ships in fiscal 2010 and options through fiscal 2014, according to Navy officials.
The concept provides a warship that can sustain 50 knots. A US Navy media report says the ships boast unmatched maneuverability, state-of-the-art technology, modularity of combat systems — and is crewed by only 40 officers and sailors. Normal crew for a ship this size is 200 to 300 people.
US naval literature describe the LCS as a fast, agile, mission-focused ship that demonstrates the latest in naval warfighting technology. The ship is specifically designed to defeat “anti-access” threats in shallow, coastal water regions, including fast surface craft, quiet diesel submarines, and mines. To meet the combatant commander’s increased demand for mission-tailored forces packages, LCS features an interchangeable modular design that allows the ship to be reconfigured to meet mission requirements.
“LCS is the future of our surface Navy,” said Vice Admiral DC Curtis, Commander, Naval Surface Forces. “This program will complement the strengths of larger warships. LCS will be a deterrent of green and brown water threats; the flexibility, versatility, and smart design of Independence make it well suited for joint operations.”
Independence is a 127m aluminum trimaran, the first of its design in the surface fleet. It has a displacement of 2800 metric tons, 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.
Independence will be manned by two rotational crews, similar to the rotational crews assigned to Trident submarines. This will allow the ships more sea-time.
Blue Crew is commanded by Commander Curt Renshaw. Gold Crew is commanded by Commander Michael Riley. The crews will be augmented by one of three mission package crews during focused mission assignments.
“The crews are immensely excited to reach commissioning,” said Renshaw. “They have been waiting and preparing a long time to do what they are doing today.”
“We are also excited to have the people who built the ship be a part of the ceremony against the great backdrop of a supportive city,” added Riley. “We are extremely pleased to celebrate this occasion in Mobile.”
Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class (SW) Katrina Williams said it “was a pretty special honour to be named as the first boatswain’s mate of the watch. I will be the first watch on the USS Independence, and I was chosen by my superiors, that means a lot to me. ”
“This is a chance for my parents and my fiancée’s parents to come and see what I’m doing, where I live, the jobs I will be doing and most important, where I will be working,” said Engineman 1st Class (SW) Benjamin Standon, who welcomed 15 members of his family to the audience.
“This ship is awesome to drive,” noted Lt. Robin Roberts, who served as weapons officer for the past three years. “It is remarkably smooth, even through 20-degree rolls. I think this ship is going to change the way the Navy does business.”
FC1 (SW) Jeffrey Gibson is confident that change would not be confined to the LCS. “The hybridisation required here is challenging. We have to learn a lot of things out of our rate,” said Gibson, recently recognised as Sailor of the Year. “But LCS will send that level of sailor back to the legacy Navy, and I think that will have a profound impact on how we man ships in the future.”
Independence, which Roughead described as “truly unique in the world,” has been likened to everything from a Klingon warship to a stealth fighter on steroids, The Navy News Service said.
Looks aside, it’s cavernous mission bay and sizeable flight deck renders it well-suited for a variety of missions. Water jet propulsion allows it to operate in waters less than 20 feet deep. It can conduct antisubmarine and mine warfare, anti-piracy operations — and would be a strong asset in the Haitian disaster relief, according to Roughead.
The LCS will be able to swap out mission packages pierside in a matter of days, adapting as the tactical situation demands. These ships will also feature advanced networking capability to share tactical information with other Navy aircraft, ships, submarines and joint units.
“LCS will have the capability … to access and deliver humanitarian assistance and provide disaster response to those in need,” he said. “Indeed, Independence’s carrying capability and capacity, and speed and draft would be an important element to have in Haiti this day.” Roughead was joined at the ceremony by retired Adm. Vern Clark, former chief of naval operations and arguably the father of the littoral combat ship, and ship’s sponsor Doreen Scott, wife of the former Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Terry Scott.
Independence will be homeported in San Diego as a part of the Pacific Fleet. Five previous ships have been named Independence. The first Independence was a 10-gun sloop that served during the War of Independence. The fourth Independence (CVL 22), a small aircraft carrier commissioned in 1943, earned eight battle stars during World War II. The fifth Independence (CV 62) was an aircraft carrier commissioned in 1959 and decommissioned in 1998.