Navy Tests Screaming Fast Warship

Bearing a name steeped in naval lore, the high-tech, high-speed USS Independence is battling a rival ship to be picked as the U.S. Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).

Eventually the Navy wants to commission a fleet of 55 of these warships as part of its shift in focus from blue-water ships to a mixed fleet of vessels that are adept at conducting a wide variety of missions closer to shore, including minesweeping, surveillance, counter-piracy and antisubmarine operations.

What sets the Independence (LCS-2) apart from the competition — the Lockheed-Martin designed USS Freedom (LCS-1) — is her tri-hull design, which is based on the hull of a high-speed trimaran ferry now in commercial service in the Canary Islands. The LCS-1 has a more conventional single hull design than the LCS-2, which was built by General Dynamics. The Navy will pick the winning design this summer.

“LCS is the future of our surface Navy,” Vice Adm. D.C. Curtis, commander of naval surface forces, said when the Independence was christened in January. “This program will complement the strengths of larger warships. LCS will be a deterrent of green and brown water threats.”

The all-aluminum vessel is the Navy’s first trimaran warship. She is propelled by four steerable waterjets that are powered by two gas turbines and two diesel engines and has range of 4,500 nautical miles. Her widest point — or "beam" — is 99 feet and the ship can operate in water that is less than 20-feet deep.

“These ships are far different from anything the Navy has built before,” said Jim DeMartini, a General Dynamics spokesman.

Wicked fast

In not-so-nautical terms, this baby hauls. The maximum speed of the 2,800-ton, 418-foot vessel is 45 knots, nearly 50 mph. She also is capable of extremely rapid acceleration and can turn on a very wet dime. This kind of performance is the stuff of drug-runner and pirate nightmares.

The sensation of speed, though, is not felt onboard. “If I didn’t know by looking at the display that we were going 45 knots, I wouldn’t have known we were going that fast,” said DeMartini, who sailed on one of the ship’s sea trials this spring.

The trimaran hull enables her to attain higher spreads than conventional monohull ships and provides a more stable platform for aviation operations. Her flight deck is higher above the water than any other Navy surface combatant ship and can support near-simultaneous operation of 2 SH-60 Seahawk helicopters, one H-53 Sea Dragon helicopter or multiple unmanned aerial vehicles.

Joystick control

The Independence’s sting is as impressive as her speed. She is armed with a surface-to-air missile launcher, 57 mm gun and assorted minor caliber guns.

Versatility is a hallmark of the new LCS class of warships. They are outfitted with reconfigurable payloads called mission packages that can be changed out quickly for assignments as varied as mine counter measures, surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare.

The Independence has an open architecture computing infrastructure called OPEN CI that integrates the ship’s combat, damage control, engineering control, mission package and other onboard computing functions and enables “plug-and-play” integration of both the core systems and the LCS mission modules. The ship is maneuvered with a joystick similar to a game controller, DeMartini told TechNewsDaily.

The crew is trained to multitask as well. With a crew of only 40, each sailor has to wear multiple hats. The permanent crews are augmented by detachment specialists for each of the mission modules.

Her sister ship, the Coronado (LCS-4), will join the fleet in 2012.