Walter Spitzinger (Updated: 7/28/2013):
The contract for the USS Independence was awarded on October 14th, 2005 to defense powerhouse General Dynamics in July of 2003. The builders contract was then handed down on October 14th, 2005 to Australian-based Austal (under the local "Austal USA" banner). Her keel was laid down on January 19th, 2006 and the vessel was formally launched on April 26th, 2008. USS Independence was officially commissioned on January 16th, 2010 at Mobile, Alabama to begin her service with the USN, making homeport out of San Diego, California fighting under the motto of "Libertas Per Laborem" translating to "Independence Through Bold Action".
The USS Independence (LCS-2) represents a proposed eight-strong class (should future USN budgets allow). This will include the USS Coronado (LCS-4), the USS Jackson (LCS-6), the USS Montgomery (LCS-8), the USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10), the USS Omaha (LCS-12), the USS Manchester (LCS-14) and the USS Tulsa (LCS-16). As of this writing (2013), the Coronado is set to be commissioned sometime in 2013 while the Jackson is under construction, joining the Montgomery and Omaha. The Gabrielle Giffords has been planned and named up to this point. The use of even numbers coincides with the other USN littoral combat ship - the Freedom-class - offered by General Dynamics competitor Lockheed Martin (this fleet is assigned odd LCS numbers). The Freedom-class is a more conventionally appearing vessel and some twelve are planned for procurement. Both ship types were accepted for production by the USN which is intent on procuring 55 total of both classes combined.
One of the most impressive physical qualities of the USS Independence is its unique hull design which is based on the Australian HSC "Benchijigua Express" trimaran. A trimaran is similar in scope to a catamaran sailing vessel though utilizing a centralized main hull flanked by a pair of outrigger hulls. This provides the vessel with adequate amounts of internal volume while limited the direct contact the hull has with the surface of the water. In this way, trimarans can claim to be more hydrodynamically and fuel efficient when compared to traditional conventional boat/ship design. Austal of Henderson, Western Australia, launched the HSC Benchijigua Express in 2003 as a "fast ferry" type passenger transport. The vessel was outfitted with 4 x MTU engines, sported a draught of just 13 feet and held a ferrying capacity of 1,290 persons and 340 vehicles. The vessel is currently (2013) operated by Fred Olsen Express and registered in Spain.
When viewed from any angle, the USS Independence exudes a sleek futuristic and somewhat unorthodox appearance (as far as military vessels are concerned). The vessel lacks the vertical surfaces found in previous warships and, instead, makes heavy use of angled, completed enclosed faces. Additionally, the long sections of railing common to older surface vessels is done away with to promote some inherent stealth qualities. Angled surfaces are used across the bow, stern and port sides with the stern left vertical. The forecastle is home to the singular deck gun with a missile cell bay seated directly aft of this installation. The superstructure rises aft of the missile bay and is home to the multi-windowed bridge allowing for a commanding view of the action along the bow and sides. The superstructure is deep and extends past amidships as part of the included hangar bay. A large flight deck takes up all of the stern surface - the unique design of the Independence allows for a noticeably larger deck surface area than conventional destroyers and cruisers. Rigid-Hulled Inflatable Boat (RIB) launches are identified along the aft sides of the vessel for use with quick response teams. A boat release is situated at the stern facing with two large powered doors providing access. The USS Independence is operated by a standard crew of 40 personnel made up of eight officers and 32 enlisted (two shifts known as "Gold" and "Blue"). Up to 35 additional mission-related crew are supported on a given voyage which can include passengers, infantry and an air wing with technical specialists. Full living quarters are found below deck. Helmsman control the vessel by way of aircraft-style control sticks as opposed to the more conventional automobile-style wheel.
As completed, the Independence was given a running length of 418 feet, a beam of 104 feet and a draught of just 14 feet. The latter quality is of particular importance seeing that the vessel was charged with operating near shorelines. The ship displaces at 2,500 tons (Short) under light load and 3,400 tons (Short) under full load. The vessel's internal volume supports multiple armored vehicles as well as associated mission crew. An access ramp fitted along the side of the vessel allows vehicles to disembark along a dock (or similar) waiting area.