The U.S. Navy accepted delivery of the future littoral combat ship (LCS) USS Billings (LCS 15) during a ceremony at the Fincantieri Marinette Marine (FMM) shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin, on February 1, the service said in a recent statement.
The Billings is the 17th LCS to be delivered to the Navy and the eighth of the Freedom variant to join the service. The U.S. Navy’s LCS force is divided into the Independence and Freedom variants. Construction of the Freedom-class is headed by Lockheed Martin at the FMM shipyard, whereas the building of Independence-class LCS is managed by Austal USA in Alabama. The Austal and Lockheed shipyards are each optimized to build two LCS per year.
“Today marks a significant milestone in the life of the future USS Billings,” LCS program manager Captain Mike Taylor was quoted as saying on February 1 by a U.S. Navy statement. “I look forward to celebrating the commissioning of this fine ship alongside the crew later this year where she will play an essential role in the new fleet of warships that will carry out our nation’s future maritime strategy.” As I noted previously:
[W]ith 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.
Each LCSs is also expected to be equipped with the Surface-to-Surface Missile Module, a 24-shot AGM-114L Longbow Hellfire missiles vertical launch system, with initial operational capability expected by the end of this year. Additionally, both LCS variants are also armed with a 57-millimeter naval gun and a 11-cell Raytheon RIM-116B SeaRAM missile-defense system.
Notably, according to a report by the Pentagon’s office of Operational Test and Evaluation from last January, the two variants are not suitable for high-intensity combat.
A number of other LCS are currently under construction at FMM including the future USS Indianapolis (LCS 17), set to start sea trials this summer, and the future USS St. Louis (LCS 19), which was christened and launched in December 2018. Additionally, six other LCSs are in various stages of construction.
As of this month, the LCS class, including hulls under construction, is now the second-largest surface ship class in the U.S. Navy after the Arleigh Burke-class of guided missile destroyers. In 2018, five LCSs were delivered to the service, and three are scheduled for delivery in 2019.
The U.S. Navy commissioned its seventh Freedom-class LCS, 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.