US Navy Close to Accepting Second of 55 Fast Littoral Combat Ships

The Navy’s second littoral combat ship, the Independence, finished its builder’s trials Wednesday.

The aluminum trimaran hit a top speed of 45 knots [50mph] and kept a sustained speed of 44 knots during its full power run in the Gulf of Mexico, shipbuilder General Dynamics said in an announcement. It kept a high speed and stability despite eight-foot waves and 25-knot winds. The latest schedule calls for the Independence to be delivered before the end of 2009 and be commissioned sometime early next year.

The Independence is the second of two ships the Navy is considering for its planned fleet of 55 littoral combat ships, along with the Lockheed Martin-built Freedom, commissioned last November. The ships were built to swap inter-changeable equipment for three missions: mine countermeasures, surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare. Navy officials will decide next spring which version of LCS they will put into full-scale production.

Each LCS was initially pitched to Congress for a cost of about $220 million, but according to the Navy’s latest budget figures, the Freedom has cost $637 million and the Independence has cost $704 million. The Navy has awarded contracts for a second Freedom-class ship — the Fort Worth — and a second Independence — the Coronado — but has not disclosed the value of the contracts.

Navy officials claim the ongoing competition between GD and Lockheed mean they can’t release the ships’ costs, although Landay said he hopes the Navy will reveal those costs soon.