USS Independence (LCS-2) Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) / Corvette Warship
The USS Independence littoral combat ship of the US Navy is a new generation of fighting support ship, leading a class of eight-strong.
Authored By Walter Spitzinger; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The USS Independence (LCS-2) represents a wholly modern United States Navy (USN) corvette and the lead ship of her new Independence-class. The USN classifies the type as a "littoral combat ship" which is defined as a small, agile surface vessel designed to operate offshore utilizing the latest in seaborne stealth technology and protected communications. The USS Independence is further defined as a "multi-mission" platform capable handling several ocean-going military- and humanitarian-minded roles. While littoral combat ships are specifically designed as offshore participants, the Independence-class sports inherent deep sea capabilities - capable of surviving rough waters up to Sea State 5 with waves cresting at 4 meters (Sea State 9 being the most dangerous, defined as "phenomenal" conditions with waves cresting over 14 meters).
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.
The USS Independence features an all-modern, highly advanced suite of processing and sensor equipment. Swedish-based Saab supplies the "Sea GIRAFFE" 3D air/surface search radar facility while Sperry Marine is responsible for the "Bridgemaster E" navigational radar array and corresponding processing equipment. Northrop Grumman has developed the onboard (and ultra-critical) Integrated Combat Management System (ICMS) while the AN/KAX-2 electro-optical sensor package complete with FLIR (Forward-Locking Infrared) and TV (Television) support rounds out the various mission systems. The Independence is designed as a fully-modular warship which allows for ease of conversion to undertake the multi-mission minded role capacity.
The flight deck and onboard hangar facilities can support the launching and recovery of rotary-wing aircraft. For the Independence, this means the USN-standard Sikorsky MH-60R/S Seahawk maritime (over water) helicopter. These aircraft provide support for Anti-Submarine/Anti-Ship Warfare (ASW), Search and Rescue (SAR) at the military or humanitarian level, VERTical REPlenishment (VERTREP) of at-sea forces, MEDical EVACuation (MEDEVAC) of the sick and wounded and special forces insertion/extraction. The helicopter (based on the US Army's UH-60 Black Hawk and Sikorsky's base S-70 company model) was adopted in 1984 and continually holds a strong presence in the modern USN. In addition to manned helicopter systems, the Independence features full launch and retrieval facilities for reconnaissance-minded rotary-wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) such as the Northrop Grumman-sponsored MQ-8 "Fire Scout". Fire Scout helicopter UAVs are currently being evaluated by the USN as of this writing (2013) for prospective formal use in future operations.
For propulsion, the Independence relies on a bevy of interconnected systems to achieve rather impressive performance specifications, control and agility. 2 x German MTU Friedrichshafen 20V 8000 Series diesel engines are used in conjunction with 2 x General Electric LM2500 gas turbines driving 2 x American VULKAN shafts. 4 x Wartsila waterjets are also installed as is a retractable thruster at the bow for precise controlling. 4 x diesel generators complete the propulsion system arrangement which, all told, allows the vessel to reach speeds of up to 44 knots with an operational listed range of 4,300 nautical miles (approximately 4,950 miles).
Armament for the Independence is largely defensive in nature. The craft typically features 1 x 57mm BAe Systems Mk 110 deck gun for engagement of surface targets or offshore bombardment. 1 x AGM-175 Griffin surface-to-air missile system is present supplying a precision kinetic effects munition option. The Raytheon-developed weapon adopted in 2008 and proven in the Afghanistan theater of war by way of UAV delivery. The missile is a rocket-powered design of 45lbs and 5.5" diameter fitting a blast-fragmentation warhead of 13lbs and laser, GPS or INS guidance. The Independence's version of the Griffin is a navalized form developed exclusively for operations over water. Other missile cells can be added due to the vessel's modular-minded design.
1 x Raytheon "SeaRAM" Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) is mounted at the hangar roof. The SeaRAM is an evolution of the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) system, coupled to the proven tracking and engagement software of the 20mm Phalanx CIWS (Phalanx 1B). This weapon is of particular use against incoming enemy cruise missiles and low-flying aircraft. 2 x 30mm Mk 44 Bushmaster chain guns allow for large-caliber direct contact with marauding enemy vessels and aircraft. The last line of physical defense are 4 x 17.mm heavy machine gun emplacements, two fitted forward and two fitted aft on trainable pintle mountings.
Defense of the USS Independence is not strictly limited to physical autocannons or guided/homing missile systems for she is also outfitted with an advanced array of electronics to be used against incoming weapon and beam threats. This suite includes an ES-3601 support measures system developed ITT Corporation and the BAe Systems NULKA active radar decoy. 4 x SRBOC launchers are also used and these can content with homing/guided threats by dispensing chaff or infrared decoys. Beginning October 2011, the Independence also tested the Remote Multi-Mission Mine Hunting Vehicle (RMMV) to help the vessel serve as a mine hunter platform.
Commissioned in 2010, the USS Independence has only begun its operational service following the requisite sea trials. After a period of active evaluation of the various systems, the vessel set sail for its first voyage. On April 15th, 2012, the LCS-2 completed its first transit of the Panama Canal Zone en route to the west coast of the United States - a sort of "rite of passage" for all Pacific Ocean-bound warships since World War 1 (1914-1918). Also in April 2012, future USS Coronado (LCS-4) crew were taken aboard for training in the Independence-class systems and basic operation. On April 24th, the vessel took on its first major foreign commander when Mexican Navy Admiral Jaime Mejia Michel visited the newest USN ship (this also became the vessel's first foreign port of call). In turn, eighteen of the Independence crew provided volunteer services at a local Mexican orphanage. On May 2nd, 2012, LCS-2 arrived at Naval Base San Diego to finish her maiden voyage, now berthing at her home port. She undertook combined maneuvers with the USS Freedom (LCS-1) off the Southern California coast during her stay. On August 3rd, 2012, the Independence was given a new command during a formal USN ceremony. This was followed by another change of command ceremony on May 1st, 2013.
Despite her revolutionary design approach, operational service involving the USS Independence has not been without issue. Heavy corrosion was found during trials which forced the USN to request $5.3 million to repair the damage after which finger-pointing ensued between builder Austal and the USN. Austal then supplied a perceived solution to the corrosion issue that will be formally trialed on the upcoming USS Jackson (LCS-6) and, if successful, retroactively applied to the LCS-2 and LCS-4. The Independence program has since gone extensively over the USN's estimated (and rather modest) budget of $220 million - the initial vessel alone has accounted for some $700 million spent drawing the attention (and ire) of some US government representatives.
The USS Independence name has been used on seven US Navy vessels since the founding of the country in 1776. The USS Independence brigantine of 1776 began carrying the name while a 1776 sloop followed. The 1814 model was a ship of the line while the 1918 SP-3676 was a steamer (serving as the Neville during World War 2). CVL-22 was a World War 2 development appearing in 1942. Perhaps the most famous modern "Independence" is the CVA-62 conventional aircraft carrier commissioned in 1959 and decommissioned in 1998.