The U.S. Navy’s newest weapon is the “Lego” ship — an ultra-cool, speedy vessel that can morph from anti-submarine warfare to a countermeasure for mines and is steered with a joystick.
The Daily scored the first-ever on-board video tour of the all-aluminum USS Independence, the Navy’s newest version of the combat ship. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the program “will be one of the most important” floating weapons in America’s arsenal.
It’s nicknamed Lego because parts of the ship can be broken down and interchanged with other parts to transform its function, allowing it to be reconfigured in roughly 96 hours from, say, a mine hunter to a surface warfare vessel.
The vessel’s proper name is the Littoral Combat Ship or LCS, reflecting the fact that it is designed to fight in littoral — that is, close-to-shore — waters.
Lt. Timothy Brock, a propulsion assistant on one of the first two LCS ships, pilots the craft by joystick instead of a traditional throttle that has to be pushed back and forth.
The technology has eliminated the need for a group of people to navigate the ship. “We’ve taken four watch standers and combined it down to one and now I’m keeping track of everything here instead of a team of people,” Brock said.
The ships can also take the sailor out of the mission by sending remote-controlled vessels to tackle mines, submarines and surface warfare.
There are two versions of the LCS ship. The LCS I, the USS Freedom, has a steel mono-hull. The LCS II, the USS Independence, is a trimaran and the first all-aluminum ship in the Navy, according to its captain, Cmdr. Matt Jerbi.
But the aluminum hull has created problems. Earlier this year, testing was halted because of corrosion. Jerbi said corrosion isn’t unusual, but there are measures to slow it down.
LCS II has both diesel and gas engines, and uses water jets instead of propellers and rudders. The ship clocks at a top speed of 40 knots, or about 45 mph.
Navy spokesman Chris Johnson said the next wave of ships will run two to three knots faster because “we’ve installed slightly larger water jets on LCS IV.”
The new LCS fleet isn’t built to replace deep-water combat ships, but it can fight. Each ship is outfitted with a 57mm gun and a missile self-defense system.
The program, started more than 10 years ago, has been beset by cost overruns and was nearly canceled. Critics said the program is too expensive — the Freedom cost $637 million, the Independence cost $704 million.
Mabus said the price tag for later ships will average $439 million — compared to $1.5 billion for a guided-missile destroyer and $10 billion for an aircraft carrier.
And the LCS can also be used in the war on drugs. Last year, the Freedom was deployed to the Caribbean and helped seize three tons of cocaine. Its size and speed confounded drug runners.
“These drug boats would see a gray warship on the horizon, they assumed they could outrun it, but they couldn’t,” Mabus said. View Graphics