The US Navy (USN) has christened its 16th and final Freedom-class littoral combat ship (LCS), the USS Cleveland (LCS 31), on 15 April 2023 at the Wisconsin-based Fincantieri Marinette Marine Shipyard.
USN Secretary Carlos Del Toro said, “This christening is a significant milestone for the future USS Cleveland, the ship’s sponsor Mrs Robyn Modly, and the prospective crew.
“LCS 31 will be another step closer to joining our fleet, sailing the open seas, continuing to defend our nation, and representing the strong connection our Navy has with the city of Cleveland”.
The US Department of Defense (DoD) had originally intended to replace its legacy Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates (FF) with the LCS programme, which comprises two variants: Freedom and Independence, designed and built by two separate industry teams. The former launched in 2008, soon followed by the latter in 2010.
However, the Freedom-class fleet experienced were soon 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.
Most recently, the USS Santa Barbara, the latest Independence-class vessel, was commissioned on 1 April. This variant has fared a better lifecycle than its LCS counterpart.
LCSs are fast, optimally crewed, mission-tailored surface combatants that operate in near-shore and open-ocean environments, winning against 21st-century coastal threats. LCSs integrate with joint, combined, crewed, and uncrewed teams to support forward presence, maritime security, sea control, and deterrence missions around the globe.
Suitable for contemporary USN needs
Despite the probllems the Freedom-class variant poses, the LCS programme more suitably fits the needs of the USN in recent times.
These warships are less costly than FFs, which offer more enhanced capabilities. Closely following the US, the People’s Republic of China is a primary adversary in the production of ships. Most recently, the PRC launched two Type 052D destroyers (DDG) from its Dalian shipyard.
Meanwhile, the US Navy has been jolted into producing more affordable vessels such as LCS and FFs (compared to more costly and time-consuming ventures such as destroyers) to meet its own force-structure goal of 355 ships, to supersede China’s ever-growing count.
The USN is nearing its necessary count of approximately 32 LCS vessels. As the final Freedom vessel, the USS Cleveland will represent a significant blunder on the navy’s part as the DoD look to fill the replacement of the Freedom variant – or perhaps the LCS programme as a whole – in the future.