The U.S. Navy is cranking out new Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) at an ambitious pace to fortify the surface fleet with armed surface combatants along with new measures of surface, anti-submarine and countermine warfare.
Austal USA just delivered the future USS Mobile (LCS 26) as a recent step on route to complete ongoing construction of as many as four more new LCS ships. The current Navy plan is to commission the new ship next year.
“Building ships on time and on cost has been something we have been focused on since the beginning and we have been able to achieve that through strong safety records and performance excellence,” Craig Savage, Austal spokesman, told The National Interest.
LCS 28, 30, 32 and 34 are all under construction, Savage explained, referring to an ongoing effort to keep pace with sustained Navy demand for the ships; Austal delivered four LCSs during the year 2020, and the particular number for this year remains in flux as it depends upon Navy requirements and continued ship construction at Austal’s Mobile, Ala., shipyard.
“Mobile is the 23rd littoral combat ship (LCS) and the 13th of the Independence variant to join the fleet. Four additional Independence-variant ships - Savannah (LCS 28), Canberra (LCS 30), Santa Barbara (LCS 32), and Augusta (LCS 34) - are in various stages of construction at Austal USA, and two more are awaiting the start of construction following LCS 34,” a Navy statement said.
The Navy’s push to add new LCS surface ships certainly aligns with the service’s strategy aimed at better arming its fleet for attack and pursuing more distributed or dis-aggregated tactics. The Navy’s current Distributed Maritime Operations strategy seeks to expand command and control technologies to better network the fleet for modern, more dispersed warfare possibilities in response to emerging technologies and new threats posed by major power rivals. Potential adversaries have longer-range weapons, sensors and AI-enabled systems in position to present new levels of threats to the U.S. Navy, part of why the service has in recent years been moving quickly to better arm the LCS for attack. This broad, fleet-wide initiative has resulted in the addition of new long-range, deck-launched strike missiles and ship-launched drones to expand combat reach.
Part of the LCS advantage also rests upon its maneuverability attributes which include an ability to reach speeds of forty knots and access coastal areas and island chains more effectively than deeper draft ships.
This is particularly relevant in areas such as the Pacific region which includes the highly-contested South China Sea island areas. Much of this area is littoral and filled with numerous Chinese man-made or “phony” islands now able to launch Chinese weapons, fighter jets and other assets. With these challenges in mind, Savage explained that LCS 10 was recently operating in the Pacific theater.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.