The Pentagon’s new littoral combat ships (LCS) are meant to serve in a multi-mission capacity. Capable of operating close to shore, the vessels are a crucial part of US Navy strategy.
But development of the ship class has been beset with a number of problems. Both the USS Fort Worth and USS Milwaukee broke down mere weeks after being christened. Earlier this month, a report by the Navy’s Director of Operations Test & Evaluation found that the LCS is unable to defend itself against smaller attack boats.
Still, these failures have not deterred the US Navy. Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, the senior commander in the Western Pacific, has stressed his unflinching support for the vessels.
"LCS is dearly needed out here," he told reporters.
"I think this is an ideal ship for this area. I like the size, the capability, multi-mission [features], there’s also room for growth. And it complements so many navies in this region."
He also said that prior to its in-port accident, "Fort Worth did very well."
The United States has been actively working to counter what it sees as a growing Chinese influence. Challenging Beijing’s construction of artificial islands in the Spratly archipelago, the Pentagon conducted a number of "freedom of navigation" operations through the South China Sea.
Last March, the Pentagon announced that the US Navy would shift 60% of its fleet to the Pacific by 2020.
Aucoin addressed concern over the South China Sea.
"We would like China to be more transparent about what their intentions are. I think that would relieve some of the angst that we’re now seeing. We’re unsure where they’re taking this," he said. "We want to make sure this is a global commons that can be used by all countries.
"We’re going to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows," he added.
The Chinese government has repeatedly criticized what it terms as US aggression in the South China Sea region, maintaining that it has every right to build within what it claims is its territory, and that the artificial islands will be used primarily for undefined humanitarian purposes.
"According to the relevant provision of Law of the People’s Republic of China, any foreign warships entering the territorial waters of China must obtain permission from the Chinese Government," Chinese Foreign Minister Hua Chunying said earlier this month.
A highly contested region through which nearly $5 trillion in trade passes annually, Beijing lays claim to most of the South China Sea, but there are overlapping claims by Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan, and the Philippines, among others.
The United States has no territorial claims in the region.