The US Navy’s (USN) Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) programme has ebbed and flowed since its inception in 2008-2010. Following the decommissioning of 23 LCSs, and more recently the induction of the USN’s final Freedom vessel USS Cleveland (LCS 31), another Independence-class vessel has been christened the USS Kingsville on 22 April 2023.
Kingsville is the 18th Independence-variant LCS, and the first USN ship named after the city of Kingsville, Texas.
Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro stated: “USS Kingsville highlights not only the city of Kingsville and Naval Air Station Kingsville, but also shows the efforts of two communities working together for the betterment of the nation. As we christen her today, I look forward to seeing the work that the officers and crew of USS Kingsville will do.”
LCSs are fast, optimally manned, mission-tailored surface combatants that operate in near-shore and open ocean environments, winning against 21st-century coastal threats. LCSs integrate with joint, combined, manned, and unmanned teams to support forward presence, maritime security, sea control, and deterrence missions around the globe.
USN count vs capability
The Freedom-class fleet being deemed “operationally unsuitable due to low reliability and availability caused by propulsion failures” according to the office of the US Director, Operational Test & Evaluation in its FY2023 report. This has led to reduced lifetimes for some Freedom vessels, as many have already been decommissioned.
The USN’s continued efforts to produce more LCSs testifies to the critical need of ships. Meanwhile, the navy is preoccupied with its commitment to naval capabilities, new weapons systems and its research and development, all in accordance with their budget allocations for FY2024.
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In fact, the USN announced its commitment to: “Research [and] Development [which] increases by nearly a billion dollars, investing in modernising our warfighting capabilities across all domains. We also added nearly two billion dollars to our weapons programmes, investing in critical munitions and supporting multi-year procurement contracts.”
The US Department of Defense has already made headway with kitting out their LCS vessels with the latest capabilities. The original equipment manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, has been contracted to exercise options for sustainment of the LCS component based total ship system – 21st Century (COMBATSS-21) and associated Combat System elements on 21 April.
There is a need to stay ahead of the curve as the USN competes with the capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). However, loading its existing vessels with a wide variety of the latest and most sophisticated firepower and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities brings the cost to investment into the USN’s force-structure goal.