(Graphic by Austal)

The littoral combat ship was intended to replace the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates. However, despite a promising 2010 deployment in the Southern Command area of operations by USS Freedom (LCS 1), the littoral combat ship (LCS) has struggled, mostly due to breakdowns.


That said, one major problem with the littoral combat ship was the fact that it is arguably underarmed. Both the Freedom-class and Independence-class littoral combat ships have an armament suite that consists of a 57mm gun, a number of .50-caliber machine guns, a launcher for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile, and a pair of MH-60 helicopters. While both ships have test-fired Harpoon and NSM anti-ship missiles, they haven't been equipped with them.

USS Coronado (LCS 4) fires a RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile in the Philippine Sea.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kaleb R. Staples)

The result is that the Navy has truncated the LCS program in favor of a new guided-missile frigate program known as FFG(X). Lockheed is offering a version of the Freedom-class littoral combat ship for the program, and Huntington Ingalls pitched a modified National Security Cutter. The Spanish Alvaro de Bazan-class guided missile frigate and the Franco-Italian FREMM are also trying to win the FFG(X) competition.

Among the systems added to the guided-missile frigate version of the Independence-class would be a Mk41 vertical-launch system that would allow it to fire a wide variety of missiles, including the RIM-174 Standard SM-6 Extended Range Active Missile, the RIM-66 Standard SM-2, the BGM-109 Tomahawk, the RUM-139 Vertical-Launch ASROC, and the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile. Anti-ship missiles like the Harpoon and NSM could also be installed on the new frigate, along with anti-submarine torpedoes.

The littoral combat ship PCU Omaha (LCS 12) in the Gulf of Mexico. The vessel has a light armament suite more suited for a Coast Guard cutter.

(U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Austal USA)

The Navy is planning to select one of the five designs as the basis for a 20-ship class in 2020. The ships will have the responsibility of escorting convoys and carrying out a host of other missions that the littoral combat ships lack the firepower to handle.