10:01 GMT +326 May 2019
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    Littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3)

    US Navy Reviews LCS Program Regardless of Breakdowns

    © AFP 2019 / Antonio Turretto Ramos
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    The United States Navy has announced a major reworking of its operating program for the troubled littoral combat ship (LCS) program.

    "Envisioned to be a networked, agile, stealthy surface combatant capable of defeating anti-access and asymmetric threats," according to the US Department of Defense, the LCS covers two ship classes, designed to operate close to shore in what is referred to as the littoral zone. The ships were designed by Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.

    The last year has been devastating for the program, as four out of six commissioned LCS ships have suffered critical breakdowns since December 2015, with two ships in the past two weeks.

    These failures caused the US Navy to stop all LCS operations and pull all six ships off duty for a thorough review. About one week after the call to stand down, the US Navy announced a major overhaul of LCS operations, including maintenance, manning and crew training.

    According to US Navy spokeswoman Lt. Kara Yingling, the overhaul is not connected to previous mechanical failures. The newly-announced plan, however, calls for the first four of the current six ships to be permanently anchored, acting as installations for crew training and technology testing.

    An initial plan, to rotate three crews through two ships, with one crew ashore, also proved unworkable. Instead, the Navy will now use the submarine fleet practice of swapping two crews ("blue" and "gold") for each ship.

    There are deeper structural changes as well. Initially, the ships were intended to be modular. It was previously supposed that each ship would carry a combat module specifically designed for one of three predetermined ship mission scenarios (anti-surface, anti-submarine or anti-mine), which could be quickly swapped for another.

    Each module was intended to have a unique crew that would be added to LCS's general crew. The two crews would operate on a single ship, focusing on their own tasks. This plan has been scrapped, and each ship will now have a single combat module and crew.

    "When I took a step back… I saw complexity, I saw instability," Vice Admiral Tom Rowden, chief of Naval Surface Forces, who earlier issued the stand-down order for the LCSs, said in interview, adding that he saw commanders "pulled in 15 different directions."

    The US Navy has also announced LCS homeports. The single-hulled Lockheed Martin Freedom class ships will be birthed in Mayport, Florida, due to their smaller size. The futuristic-looking trimaran-hulled Independence-class ships are too wide to fit in Mayport, and will remain in San Diego.

    There remains significant uncertainty regarding the future of the LCS program. Vice Admiral Rowden has cast doubt on the Navy's demand for some 60 ships of this class, suggesting now that the program size is something that has yet to be "worked through."

    The Vice Admiral, in recognizing the potential wartime utility of the LCS class, stated that "[the Navy] certainly stands by that requirement," but overall attitude is less than enthusiastic. An announcement regarding a new US Navy multi-purpose frigate, set to be delivered by 2023, hints that the LCS program might well be cut short.


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