Today I had the distinct honor of attending the launch of the future USS Freedom, LCS 1. The christening was a "smashing" success. After five years of work to define what a littoral combatant should be able to do, and helping to influence the design of the ship, it was a real pleasure to see her with my own eyes this morning, and to witness the first Great Lakes launch of a naval combatant since World War II.
From the Lockheed Martin press release:
MARINETTE, WI, September 23, 2006 – History was made here today when the nation’s first Littoral Combat Ship, FREEDOM (LCS-1) – the inaugural ship in an entirely new class of U.S. Navy surface warships – was christened and launched at the Marinette Marine shipyard.
The agile 377-foot FREEDOM -- designed and built by a team led by Lockheed Martin [NYSE:LMT] -- will help the Navy defeat growing littoral, or close-to-shore, threats and provide access and dominance in coastal water battlespace. Displacing 3,000 metric tons and with a capability of reaching speeds well over 40 knots, FREEDOM will be a fast, maneuverable and networked surface combatant with operational flexibility to execute focused missions, such as mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare and humanitarian relief.
FREEDOM’s christening ceremony included the traditional smashing of a champagne bottle across the ship’s bow, performed by ship’s sponsor Birgit Smith. Smith, the wife of U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery and gallantry above and beyond the call of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom, was selected as FREEDOM’s sponsor by Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England.
FREEDOM made a spectacular side-launch before an audience of thousands who had lined both sides of the Menominee River, which divides the states of Wisconsin and Michigan.
“Just a little more than three years ago she was just an idea, now FREEDOM stands before us. And on this morning, we christen her, send her down the ways and get her ready to join the Fleet next year,” said Admiral Michael G. Mullen, U.S. Navy, Chief of Naval Officer. “It comes none too soon … because there are tough challenges out there that ONLY she can handle.”
There are those who would criticize the LCS program as ill-defined, and potentially too expensive, but can we really afford to wait until everything is perfectly decided in the face of today's enemy? The Arleigh Burke class, the last combatant program to launch, started in the late 1970s and didn't commission a ship until 1991. During that period, the perceived threat for the Burkes didn't really change -- they were built to defend the fleet against mass air attack, strike at enemy land targets, and defeat the nuclear submarine threat. That threat is gone, replaced by the massed small boat attack, the mine, and the quiet diesel submarine. The Burke class is serving admirably against those threats, because it has to. Doesn't it make sense to build small, fast, shallow draft ships as a complement to the Burke class, allowing them to concentrate on keeping the blue-water sea lines of communication open?
I believe that we need to return to the developmental nature of shipbuilding experienced in the 1920s and 30s. Look at the number of different ship classes created during that timeframe, and the radically improved capability achieved in the late 30s designs compared to those of the early 20s. By building a few ships, experimenting with them, and feeding the results back into the design process we developed the seeds of World War II's great fleet. LCS follows in that tradition -- the Navy is building four ships to meet a single set of requirements, with two radically different designs. Experiments undertaken with those ships will inform future designs. Eventually, the Navy will have 55 ships, each able to take on modular mission packages to adapt to new missions, new threats, and new environments.
These ships have generated significant overseas interest, as well. Israel is one of the most interested countries, and is pursuing a study right now to take advantage of the LCS 1 hull form and mechanical arrangements with their own combat system needs built into the ship. Rather than buy a foreign design, I believe we should press on, and use the foreign interest to lower our costs by spreading the overhead across more hulls.
Here are a few articles for your consideration on the subject:
DefenseNews.com - US Navy Studies Adapting LCS For Israel - 04/10 ...
Israel, Saudi Arabia Eye US Navy Ship
Give the Navy time. I think they really do know what they are doing. There will be some rough patches along the way, but the taxpayers will end up with a very effective ship, and will not have to pay through the nose to get it.
Tags: US Navy, War on Terror, Littoral Combat Ship, USS Freedom