The US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) programme looks as though it will mark 2024 as being the end of the road for the twin-variant warship class, with the now officially named USS Pierre (LCS 38) joining the USS Cleveland as being the final iterations of their respective designs.

Taking place at manufacturer Austal’s shipyard in Mobile, Alabama, on 18 May, the USS Pierre is the 19th and last of the Independence-class LCS vessels, which when conceived in the mid-2000s along with the Freedom-class variant, were intended to offer the US Navy a new multirole warship and fill the gap of the departed Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates (FFG).

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

Intended to provide forward presence, maritime security, sea control, and deterrence functions, the LCS are thought by the US Navy to be unable to operate in a contested environment such as could be seen in any conflict with China. Delays have also hit the mission modules designed to slot into the LCS warships to enable them to fulfill additional roles, such as mine countermeasure operations, further limiting their usefulness for the US Navy.

A patriotic graphic released in 2019 showing the future USS Pierre, which will turn out to be the final LCS constructed. Credit: US Navy

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.

However, even this reduced ambition was unable to be met, with the US Navy currently operating 25 LCS (11 Freedom class and 14 Independence class) in its fleet, with at least two Independence class and two Freedom class due to be decommissioned later in 2024, or else sold to foreign buyers.

Earlier this year the final Freedom-class LCS, USS Cleveland (LCS 31), was provided its ship’s crest and will be the last of the 16 Freedom class warships.

The Littoral Combat Ship: a troubled tale of twin designs

The LCS class consists of two variants, Freedom and Independence, designed and built by two separate industry teams. The Independence-variant LCS is led by Austal USA and is recognisable for their unique trimaran design and even-numbered hulls.

The first Independence-class LCS, USS Independence, was commissioned into service in 2010, departing service 11 years later in 2021. The first four LCS, two each of the Freedom and Independence variants, were introduced into service effectively as trial ships, intended to test the platforms and operational concepts ahead of future builds.

According to the US Navy, the Independence variant is an aluminum trimaran design originally built by an industry team led by General Dynamics Bath Iron Works for LCS 2 and LCS 4. Currently, Independence variant LCS (LCS 6 and subsequent even-numbered hulls) are constructed by Austal USA in the company’s Mobile, Alabama shipyard.