US Navy begins high speed sea trials of the USS Milwaukee LCS 5 ship. The Freedom class is one of two classes of littoral combat ship built for the United States Navy.
The Freedom class was proposed by Lockheed Martin as a contender for USN plans to build a fleet of small, multipurpose warships to operate in the littoral zone. Two ships were approved, to compete with the Independence-class design offered by General Dynamics and Austal for a construction contract of up to 55 vessels.
Despite initial plans to only accept two of the Freedom and Independence variants, the Navy has since announced plans to order up to ten additional ships of each class, for a total 12 ships per class. As of 2015, two ships are active and an additional five are under construction.
Planning and construction
Planning for a class of small, multipurpose warships to operate in the littoral zone began in the early 2000s. The construction contract was awarded to Lockheed Martin's LCS team (Lockheed Martin, Gibbs & Cox, Marinette Marine, Bollinger Shipyards) in May 2004 for two vessels. These would then be compared to two ships built by Austal USA to determine which design would be taken up by the Navy for a production run of up to 55 ships.
On 15 April 2003, the Lockheed Martin LCS team unveiled their Sea Blade concept based on the hull form of the motor yacht Destriero.
The keel of the lead ship USS Freedom was laid down in June 2005, by Marinette Marine in Marinette, Wisconsin. She was christened in September 2006, delivered to the Navy in September 2008, and commissioned that November. During INSURV trials, 2,600 discrepancies were discovered, including 21 considered high-priority. Not all of these were rectified before the ship entered service, as moving the ship away from Milwaukee before the winter freeze was considered a higher priority.
Cost overruns during Freedom 's construction combined with projected future overruns led the government to issue a "Stop-work" in January 2007 and ultimately led to the cancellation of construction of LCS-3 (the second Lockheed Martin ship) on April 13, 2007. This ship was later re-ordered.
After much inconsistency on how testing and orders were to proceed, in November 2010, the USN asked that Congress approve ten of both the Freedom and Independence variants.
An MH-60 Seahawk helicopter approaching USS Freedom in 2009
The ship is a semi-planing steel monohull with an aluminum superstructure. It is 377 feet (115 m) in length, displaces 3,500 metric tons, and can go faster than 45 knots (83 km/h; 52 mph). The design incorporates a large reconfigurable seaframe to allow rapidly interchangeable mission modules, a flight deck with integrated helicopter launch, recovery and handling system and the capability to launch and recover boats (manned and unmanned) from both the stern and side.
The flight deck is 1.5 times the size of that of a standard surface ship, and uses a Trigon traversing system to move helicopters in and out of the hangar. The ship has two ways to launch and recover various mission packages: a stern ramp and a starboard side door near the waterline. The mission module bay has a 3-axis crane for positioning modules or cargo. Problems with the electrical systems are the most serious problems with the Freedom class.
The fore deck has a modular weapons zone which can be used for a 57 mm gun turret or missile launcher. A Rolling Airframe Missile launcher is mounted above the hangar for short-range defense against aircraft and cruise missiles, and .50-caliber gun mounts are provided topside. The Fleet-class unmanned surface vessel is designed for operations from Freedom variant ships.
The core crew will be 40 sailors, usually joined by a mission package crew and an aviation detachment for a total crew of about 75. Automation allows a reduced crew, which greatly reduces operating costs, but workload can still be "gruelling". During testing of the class lead, two ship's companies will rotate on four-month assignments.
Four 750-kilowatt Fincantieri Isotta-Fraschini diesel generators provide 3 megawatts of electrical power to power the ship systems.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that fuel will account for only "8 percent to 18 percent" of the total life-cycle costs for Freedom. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama has called the report into question and has suggested that Independence, built in his state, would be more fuel efficient and that less frequent refuelings would have an impact on military operations beyond the cost of fuel.
In 2012, a Navy cybersecurity team found major deficiencies in Lockheed's Total Ship Computing Environment, which controls the entire ship in order to reduce crewing requirements.
Survivability has been a criticism of both Littoral Combat Ship classes, rated at level one by the Navy,