The US Navy continues to support its Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) after considerable technical problems and the decommissioning of a large number of vessels planned this year.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) awarded Rolls-Royce a $66.6m contract on 16 May to provide global engineering and technical support for the MT30 engine used in Freedom-class LCSs.

The twin designs in the programme include the monohull Freedom and the trimaran Independence-class variants, each broadly intended to fulfill a similar set of missions but using dramatically different platforms to achieve the goal.

With construction beginning on the Freedom-class LCS 1 (USS Freedom) and Independence-class LCS 2 (USS Independence) in 2005 and 2006 respectively, they were similarly spaced in their commissioning into service, with the USS Freedom joining the US Navy in November 2008 and the USS Independence following in January 2010.

However, the LCS programme has been hampered by continued debates as to their suitability in high-threat or contested environments.

The prodigal ship returns

The DoD has taken a half-hearted stand to continue supporting the troublesome fleet, hardened by years of inoperability. With the Freedom variant waning, the DoD has focused on the success of its sister hull, the Independence variant. Only last week, on 12 May, did the DoD commit to sourcing an unlimited supply of propulsion components for the trimaran LCS type.

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But the latest contract with the original manufacturer of the Freedom engine, Rolls-Royce, suggests the department’s concern for Freedom has been broken by a resurgent commitment to extending the life of its existing, albeit terminal, ships.

However, it should also be noted that the DoD specify that this contract includes options which, if exercised, would not increase the cumulative value of the contract above the allocated $66.6m, potentially indicating the department’s limited patience in supporting the variant.

Rolls-Royce is the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of the MT30 engine, which explains why the contract was sole-sourced. The MT30 is part of the aero Trent engine family, and the OEM praises its “excellent performance retention.”