Posted on Mon, Jun. 12, 2006
New Navy warships more agile
By David Sharp
BATH, Maine - Sailor, these are not your father's warships.
The first of a new breed of Navy ship -- faster and easier to maneuver
-- is expected to launch later this year to meet threats including
modern-day pirates and terrorists who turn speedboats into suicide
The Littoral Combat Ship is powered by steerable waterjets, so it
doesn't need propellers or rudders.
It's designed to go more than 50 mph; traditional destroyers have had
the same top speed -- about 35 mph -- since World War II.
The LCS has a shallow draft and its waterjets let the ship zoom close
to shore without getting stuck and to turn on a dime, allowing it to
chase smaller boats.
The name itself is taken from the coastal "littoral" waters in which
the ship will operate.
The LCS will be less armored than bigger ships, but its speed will give
it a tactical advantage in combat, said Rear Adm. Charles Hamilton,
program executive officer for ships, who is overseeing the project from
The Navy envisions several of the ships working together on missions
using unmanned vehicles, helicopters and other weapons, he said.
An LCS will have a core crew of only 40 sailors, and berthing for up to
75, compared to 330 sailors aboard a destroyer.
The new warship was conceived six years ago and fast-tracked after the
USS Cole bombing and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The first of the new ships will be delivered in roughly half the 10 to
15 years it takes under traditional shipbuilding programs.
"That's a miracle in Navy terms," said Jay Korman, naval analyst at
Washington-based consultants DFI Corporate Services.
Two versions are under construction. Lockheed Martin Corp. is leading
the team building LCS-1, with partners Marinette Marine Corp. in
Wisconsin and Bollinger Shipyards Inc. in Louisiana.
The Freedom ship due to launch this fall in Marinette, Wis., resembles
a traditional frigate or destroyer but features a sleek, semi-planing
hull, meaning the bow lifts at top speed, reducing resistance and
making it faster.
The other LCS version by team leader Bath Iron Works, a subsidiary of
General Dynamics Corp., resembles a futuristic catamaran.
The aluminum "trimaran" Independence being built by Austal USA in
Mobile, Ala., is loosely based on fast ferries developed in Australia.
Lockheed Martin's LCS is 378 feet long, while General Dynamics'
trimaran is 418 feet. By comparison, the typical Arleigh Burke-class
destroyer is 510 feet long and the Zumwalt "stealth" destroyer being
developed will be about 600 feet.
The Navy plans to build 55 of one or both models of the LCS to beef up
a fleet that critics say was neglected even before the Iraq war.
From more than 600 ships in the 1980s, the fleet has dwindled to 289, anumber the Navy wants to raise soon to 313.
Instead of lengthy research and development, the Navy encouraged
contractors to utilize off-the-shelf technologies from the private
sector, much like the Army did as it rushed its Stryker vehicles into
service in urban warfare in Iraq.
The Navy also asked for ships that can be easily reconfigured for
The resulting designs feature removable "mission packages" that allow
the ships to operate either for anti-submarine missions, mine removal
or traditional surface warfare, said Lt. Tamara Lawrence, a Navy
spokeswoman at the Pentagon.
Tests show the mission packages can be swapped out in 24 hours. And
when those mission modules become outdated, the Navy can replace them
instead of building new ships, Hamilton said.
At about $350 million, an LCS costs roughly a third as much as a
destroyer, he said.
Although there's support for LCS, shipbuilders don't want the Navy to
neglect bigger, multimission ships that project U.S. seapower around
the world, according to Cynthia Brown, president of the American
Shipbuilding Association in Washington.
The six shipyards that build the Navy's largest ships -- aircraft
carriers, amphibious assault ships, cruisers, destroyers and submarines
-- have lost 24,000 jobs since 1991, she said.
Hamilton said the small shipyards were able to respond quickly to the
Navy's needs on the LCS, and the new warships could have a positive
effect of bringing pressure to bear on the bigger, traditional
shipyards like Bath Iron Works.
Although Bath traditionally has built larger ships for the Navy,
there's a lot of excitement about the LCS, said Mike Keenan, president
of the local machinists union in Bath.
Bath Iron Works could eventually build some of the ships.
"All in all, this could be a lucrative program where there could be a
lot of work for a lot of shipbuilders," Keenan said.