Purpose: This is a small, fast ship (capable of 45 knots) for sub-hunting, mine-clearing, and fighting small boats near coastlines—the littoral region. Each LCS would be equipped with one of three distinct mission modules: a set of plug-and-play ship sensors, missiles, small boats, unmanned underwater vehicles and specially equipped helicopters, for mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare or surface combat. The base configuration would include antimissile batteries and a medium-caliber gun. The ships could clear mines and chase subs away from an area before the rest of the fleet arrived.
Replaces: Analysts say the LCS is likely to replace 30 frigates and 14 mine-warfare ships.
Status: The Navy asked both Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics to create a ship, and the two companies came up with wildly different designs. Lockheed Martin’s USS Freedom, or LCS 1, which launched in September 2006, features a semi-planing hull designed to lift partially out of the water for lower friction at high speed. General Dynamics hopes to deliver its high-speed trimaran, the USS Independence, by mid-2008.
Prognosis: Iffy. According to a Government Accountability Office report, the Navy changed design requirements as LCS 1 was being built, leading to expensive reconfigurations and pushing costs from an estimated $472 million to $1 billion for the pair. The Navy canceled two follow-on ships, and the cost overruns jeopardize the anticipated 55-ship order—and by extension, the entire 30-year plan. As Robert Work of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments put it, “Until the Navy can prove that it can build affordable ships, it’s not clear that we can get to 313.”