Under a firm-fixed price contract worth $28m released on 5 July 2024, BAE Systems’ San Diego Ship Repair division will prepare the Littoral Combat Ship, USS Mobile (LCS 26), for availability following critical maintenance, and modernisation.

Strangely, the vessel has only been in active service for three years and two months. In that time she has operated in the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, the largest forward-deployed numbered fleet with 50 to 70 ships, which interact with allies and partners in the Indo Pacific theatre.

Mobile is an Independence variant within the LCS family, meaning its original equipment manufacturer, General Dynamics, designed the vessel with a trimaran hull; this contrasts with Lockheed Martin’s mono-hull Freedom variant.

The LCS is a fast, highly manoeuvrable, networked ship constructed to perform interdict asymmetric threats in the littoral (coastal) waters, this can vary from small, fast and armed boats to quiet diesel electric submarines.

A dying class

The twin-design programme has reached the end of the line this year with the now officially named USS Pierre (LCS 38) joining the USS Cleveland as being the final iterations of their respective designs.

The vessels have been plagued by issues, to an extent that the US Navy has sought to decommission hulls decades ahead of schedule and develop the Constellation-class FFG to add much-needed combat capability to the service’s battleline.

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The procurement of the LCS programme was planned to see the introduction of 52 vessels split evenly between the two variants, but this was continuously scaled back before settling somewhat on a 32-ship fleet.

USS Mobile (LCS 26) arrives at its new homeport in San Diego on 26 June 2021 after completing the ship’s first transit as a newly-commissioned vessel. The Navy commissioned Mobile, 22 May 2021 during a ceremony in Mobile, Alabama. Credit: DVIDS.

Mark Cancian, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described the differences in navy thinking since the LCS heyday.

“The LCS was not really designed during the current focus on China, although China was coming up over the horizon. The thought for the LCS programme was that they would deal with Chinese capabilities through speed.

“They gave up on that with the Constellation programme, which is not slow by any means, but originally they were thinking sustained speeds of 30 knots plus for LCS. So having a less expensive ship type that you might be able to risk was one of the big drivers for the Constellation programme.”

Regenerating Mobile

The scope of this acquisition includes “all labour, supervision, equipment, production, testing, facilities, and quality assurance necessary to prepare for and accomplish the Chief of Naval Operations availability for critical maintenance, modernisation, and repair programmes,” detailed the US Department of Defense.

If exercised, the options would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $28.5m. Work will be performed in San Diego, California and is expected to be completed by May 2025.

In May 2024, Mobile was deployed alongside a Lewis and Clark-class cargo ship, T-AKE 8, in a joint exercise with the Royal Netherlands Navy De Zeven Provinciën-class frigate, HNLMS Tromp, which is itself being phased out for new frigates by the end of the decade.

Additional reporting from Richard Thomas.