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    Littoral Combat Ship: A Sea Change in Operational Readiness and Flexibility

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    The littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) leads a formation followed by the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) frigate RSS Formidable (FFS 68), the dry cargo ship USNS Amelia Earhart (T-AKE 6), the guided-missile destroyer USS Momsen (DDG 92)” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) has faced a sea of challenges since its inception. Born out of a necessity to perform missions in shallow, inshore waters impractical for larger vessels, the LCS was envisioned as a naval game-changer. This vision, however, has been clouded by delays, cost overruns, and operational setbacks that have left the program justifying its existence.

    U.S. Navy Commissions Littoral Combat Ship USS Detroit (LCS 7)” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    At a recent Surface Navy Association national symposium, the LCS was the elephant in the room, with an audience poll humorously acknowledging the program’s criticism.

    U.S. Navy Commissions Littoral Combat Ship USS Detroit (LCS 7)” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Two decades into its life, the LCS has struggled with defining its role, completing its mission packages, and proving its worthiness in the fleet. Seven ships have been decommissioned since 2021, with plans to retire seven more in the near future, raising questions about the fleet’s initial projection of 55 ships, now reduced to 35.

    The Royal Thai navy ships sail in formation with the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Jackson (LCS 6) as a P-8A Poseidon flies above during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Thailand 2022.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The LCS consists of two variants, the steel-hulled Freedom and the aluminum-hulled Independence, the latter managed by Austal USA as the prime contractor. Both designs are configured to support three mission packages: surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and mine countermeasures.

    U.S. Navy Commissions Littoral Combat Ship USS Detroit (LCS 7)” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Yet, setbacks such as the scrapping of the anti-submarine package have marred their progress. Despite these hurdles, the mine countermeasures mission package reached initial operational capability in May 2023, signaling a potential shift in the tide.

    Littoral Combat Ship LCS-1 USS Freedom” by avhell is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    The Navy’s defense of the LCS extends beyond its troubled history, pointing to improvements in training, maintenance, and operational availability. Task Force Littoral Combat Ship, established after a comprehensive review in 2020, highlights strides made in self-sufficiency.

    Littoral Combat Ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3)” by SurfaceWarriors is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    Maintenance execution teams, once almost completely reliant on contractors, have taken a more prominent role, handling up to 70 percent of checks as of 2024. This pivot towards greater crew autonomy, alongside the shift to single crewing, represents a return to traditional naval principles of operation and maintenance.

    The Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Billings (LCS 15) departs Naval Station Guantanamo Bay after completing a brief stop for fuel and provisions.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    LCS’s potential was recently exemplified during the unprecedented 26-month deployment of the USS Charleston to the Western Pacific. Its performance boasted an impressive material availability rate, surpassing the task force’s threshold.

    Sailors stand a simulated watch on the bridge of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Integrated Tactical Traine” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    This success was echoed by four other Independence-class ships deployed to the Seventh Fleet, operating at nearly 96 percent efficiency.

    Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Cedric Pullin, assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Ignatius (DDG 117), shoots a shot line over to the Freedom-class littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS 11) during a Corporal November.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Enhancements in firepower and versatility further reinforce the LCS’s evolving role in the Navy. Equipped with the Naval Strike Missile and the groundbreaking launch of an SM-6 multi-mission missile from an Independence-class ship, the LCS’s lethality is on the rise.

    An MQ-8B Fire Scout and a rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB) conduct visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) training alongside the Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS 11).” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The integration of unmanned aerial systems like Textron Systems’ Aerosonde drone promises increased intelligence and surveillance capabilities.

    Littoral Combat Ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3)” by SurfaceWarriors is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    Despite the program’s historical criticisms, recent developments are painting a more positive picture. Austal USA’s recent milestones, including the successful completion of acceptance trials for the future USS Kingsville, the delivery of the future USS Augusta, and the ongoing construction of the final Independence variant, the future USS Pierre, suggest a commitment to fulfilling the LCS’s promise.

    The littoral combat ship USS Independence” by #PACOM is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    As the Navy continues to innovate and adapt, the LCS program may yet prove to be the versatile, capable platform it was always intended to be.

    The littoral combat ship USS Freedom” by #PACOM is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    The LCS has been a lightning rod for debate, and while it continues to court skeptics, there is cautious optimism for its redemption. Naval leaders see it as a valuable asset, with the LCS playing the role of the cavalry in various scenarios, from scouting missions to flanking maneuvers against adversaries.

    Littoral Combat Ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3)” by SurfaceWarriors is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    The Navy’s dedication to the program echoes through its fleet commanders and surface Navy needs. Whether the Littoral Combat Ship will ultimately fulfill its mission as a cornerstone of naval operations remains to be seen, but the winds of change are certainly blowing in its favor.

    Relevant articles:
    Littoral Combat Ship Still Fighting to Prove Its Worth, nationaldefensemagazine.org
    Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Related News, Austal
    Austal USA Completes Acceptance Trials on Future USS Kingsville (LCS 36), Naval News
    Last Independence Littoral Combat Ship, USNI News

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