The U.S. Navy commissioned its seventh Freedom-class littoral combat ship, the USS Wichita (LCS 13), at Naval Station Mayport in Florida on January 12. The Wichita is the 15th LCS to enter service with the U.S. Navy’s surface fleet.
“This commissioning represents USS Wichita’s entry into the active fleet and is a testament to the increased capabilities made possible by a true partnership between the Department of the Navy and our industrial base,” Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said in the statement.
The Navy accepted delivery of two Freedom-class LCS—the USS Sioux City and USS Wichita—at the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin in August. The USS Sioux City (LCS-11) was commissioned in November 2018.
The U.S. Navy’s fleet of LCSs is divided into the Independence and Freedom variants. Construction of the Freedom-class is spearheaded by Lockheed Martin at Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard, whereas the building of Independence-class LCS is led by Austal USA in Alabama. The Austal and Lockheed shipyards are optimized to build two LCS per year.
As I explained elsewhere, with 40 percent of the hull reconfigurable, both LCS variants use an open architecture design, enabling the warships to be fitted with interchangeable so-called mission packages providing capabilities for surface warfare (SUW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and mine countermeasures (MCM) missions in the littoral zone. The ASW warfare package is expected to become available to the fleet in 2019, while the MCM package will be available in 2020.
The USS Wichita will be the first LCS to join the East Coast Mine Warfare Division, despite the MCM package not ready for operational use at least for another year.
“LCSs will also likely be fitted with the Surface-to-Surface Missile Module, a 24-shot AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire missiles vertical launch system with with initial operational capability expected by the end of 2019,” I wrote in December 2018. “LCS of both variants are armed with a 57-millimeter naval gun and a 11-cell Raytheon RIM-116B SeaRAM missile-defense system.” According to a January 2018 report by the Pentagon’s office of Operational Test and Evaluation, LCS of both variants are not suitable for high-intensity combat
Not a single LCS have been deployed in 2018. Notably, according to the commander of U.S. Naval Surface Forces, Vice Admiral Richard Brown, the U.S. Navy will deploy three LCS in 2019. “Two ships are going on the West Coast; one ship is going on the East Coast, followed shortly [by a second] in the beginning of ’20,” Brown was quoted as saying by USNI News on January 14. And that marks the deployment of LCS; there will always be LCS forward-deployed now, just like we designed the program.”
The next Freedom-variant in the class is LCS 15, the future USS Billings, slated for delivery in the spring of 2019.