Littoral Combat Ship USS Little Rock to Set Sail

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

The ninth littoral combat ship, the USS Little Rock, will be christened and launched July 18 in Marinette, Wisconsin. 

The vessel, built by Lockheed Martin and Marinette Marine Corp., is one of 13 Freedom-class littoral combat ships under contract to Lockheed. Austal USA builds the Independence-class version of the ship.

USS Little Rock has the same configurations as previous versions of the Freedom-variant of the LCS, said Joe North, vice president of littoral ships and systems at Lockheed Martin.

“These configurations for the block buy are all the same,” he said. “All the weapon systems and the mission packages are defined and the same for the 32 ships that we are building in that configuration.”

Marinette currently has seven of the Freedom-class ships in production at its Wisconsin facility. LCS 11, known as the USS Sioux City, will launch later this year. LCS 13, 15 and 17 are in production. LCS 19 and LCS 21 are under contract. A contract for LCS 23 should be signed by the end of this year, North said.

The LCS has for years faced harsh criticism throughout the defense industry, with some claiming it is unsuitable for warfare and unsurvivable in combat. The Navy had planned to purchase a total of 52 littoral combat ships, but slashed that number to 32 last year. The remaining 20 ships will be modified with an eye toward increased survivability and beefed up weapon systems, though specific requirements have yet to be released. They will be designated as frigates rather than littoral combat ships.

North said while the Little Rock’s capabilities are the same as previous versions of the LCS, Lockheed has made some modifications and taken lessons learned from LCS 1, the USS Freedom, and LCS 3, the USS Fort Worth, he said.

Lockheed has rolled in design features that improve crew life and maintenance, he said. It is working on reducing the vessel’s weight. Freedom-class ships average at about 3,400 tons, North said.“Weight reductions are constant,” he said. “We work those in as best we can into an inline process so we’re not doing rework to the hulls. We try to get that stuff done when it appears as an option.”

A vendor Lockheed uses for insulation material recently produced a material that meets all Navy requirements but is “much thinner and much lighter.” That will help trim the ship’s weight, he said.

Lockheed is planning to bid on six more littoral combat ships through fiscal year 2017 and 2018, North said. Starting in fiscal year 2019, it will bid on the remaining 20 frigates. 

There are potential international customers, he said. “Well over 20 countries … have contacted the Navy with interest. There has been some interest in the Middle East and there’s interest in Southeast Asia right now,” he said. “The deployment of Freedom and Forth Worth, I think it generated a lot of that. Those countries [are] getting to see how those ships perform.”

However, there are only discussions at the moment. “Things look good,” he said. But “international sales take a long time.”

Saudi Arabia is one of the “more promising” countries but there is nothing formal yet, he said.

Topics: Shipbuilding, Surface Ships

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