May 15, 2008 With naval battles on the high seas now virtually extinct for the U.S. armed forces, the navy's role has become more one of infantry invasion and airstrike support - and with this new role comes a need for vessels more suited to littoral (just offshore) operations. The initial order was placed back in 2005, and the first delivery, the U.S.S. Independence, has just been launched, a speedy trimaran with helicopter decks, a stealthy radar profile and a healthy array of arms. It's configurable to suit a wide array of littoral combat missions, including minesweeping, anti-submarine and surface combat support - and now that we've seen it in the flesh, it wouldn't look the least bit out of place soaring over the credits of a Star Wars movie.

The U.S.S. Independence is the first of a projected fleet of between 50 and 100 littoral combat ships (LCSs) the US Navy will be adding to their fleet over the coming years. Built on a well-proven Australian-designed trimaran platform from Austal, the LCS is fast, stealthy and well suited to a range of offshore combat support missions.

The rear deck is suitable for two Seahawk helicopters, and can also support Harrier jump-jets if necessary. Onboard weaponry includes a 57mm Bofors gun, four .50 caliber guns, chaff, missile and torpedo decoy launchers, an 11-missile SeaRAM launcher, 8 Harpoon surface-to-surface missiles, mine detection and towed array sonar units, and a vertical launching system for ASROC-style surface missiles or Evolved Sea Sparrow type missile defenses.

The U.S.S. Inedpendence was built and delivered by General Dynamics, as part of a four-ship evaluation plan. Two were to be built by General Dynamics, two by Lockheed Martin, and the designs were to be evaluated to determine the superior design. Sadly, cost blowouts by both General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin have seen the remaining three evaluation ships cancelled and the Navy is putting together a new bidding program to have the remaining three evaluation ships contracted and built.


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