GEAR & TECH

How Lockheed wants to make this Littoral Combat Ship a frigate

(Lockheed graphic)

The Littoral Combat Ship program has had a rocky history, characterized by many ups and downs. USS Freedom (LCS 1), a variant designed by a team led by Lockheed, notched one of the highs during a 2010 deployment to Southern Command, during which it quickly racked up four drug busts. Unfortunately for the LCS, for every high, there have been many lows.


Both the Freedom- and Independence-class vessels experienced many breakdowns. Last year, one ship got iced in. Additionally, the basic armament suite just doesn't pack that much of a punch — the littoral combat ships have a single 57mm gun, a launcher for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile, a few M2 .50-caliber machine guns, and an MH-60R Seahawk.

The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) conducts flight deck certification with an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter assigned to the Sea Knights of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 22.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nathan Laird)

That kind of firepower isn't bad for a Coast Guard cutter, but for a warship, it's just wimpy. By comparison, Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates (which the littoral combat ships were to replace) pack a Mk 13 missile launcher that typically carries 36 RIM-66 Standard SM-1 surface-to-air missiles and four RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, a 76mm gun, two triple 324mm torpedo tube mounts, and a Mk 15 Phalanx close-in weapon system in addition to an MH-60 helicopter.

As a result, the Navy has cut the LCS program from 52 vessels down to 40. Now, the Navy wants to buy guided-missile frigates. To that end, Lockheed is putting forth a version of the Freedom, called the "Freedom Frigate." In essence, this is a LCS that will have a lot more firepower.

For starters, it will pack at least 16 cells in a Mk 41 vertical launch system and be able to fire RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, the Standard family of surface-to-air missiles, RUM-139 Vertical Launch ASROCs, and BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles. Not only that, the new FFG(X) will also pack eight anti-ship missiles and countermeasures against enemy missiles and torpedoes.

This model at the SeaAirSpace expo in National Harbor, Maryland shows some of the upgraded firepower that the FFG(X) variant of the Freedom-class littoral combat ship will pack.

(Harold Hutchison)

The Navy plans to pick its new FFG in 2020. The Freedom is facing off against four other contenders, including one from Spain.