The U.S. Navy’s newest Freedom variant littoral combat ship, the future USS Little Rock – LCS 9 joined the fleet during a ceremony in Buffalo, New York. For the first time in the 242-year history of the Navy, the new ship will come to life next to another of the same name. The only remaining Cleveland-class warship, the original USS Little Rock, is now on permanent display at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park at Canalside Buffalo.
She is the second ship named after Little Rock, the capital city of Arkansas. The ship’s estimated construction costs are between $300 million and $350 million. The keel laying ceremony for Little Rock was on 27 June 2013. The mast stepping ceremony took place on 23 April 2015, followed by the christening ceremony on 18 July 2015.
On 25 August 2017, Little Rock, the fifth Freedom-variant LCS built by Lockheed Martin and Fincantieri Marinette Marine, completed acceptance trials on Lake Michigan with the highest score of any Freedom-variant LCS to date, earning the right to fly brooms atop her mast signifying a clean sweep of the ship’s sea trials. The ship was delivered to the United States Navy on 25 September 2017. The ship was commissioned alongside the original USS Little Rock (CLG-4), in Buffalo, New York on 16 December 2017.
The Freedom class is one of two classes of littoral combat ship built for the United States Navy. The Freedom class was proposed by Lockheed Martin as a contender for a fleet of small, multipurpose warships to operate in the littoral zone. Two ships were approved, to compete with the Independence-class design offered by General Dynamics and Austal for a construction contract of up to 55 vessels.
Despite initial plans to only accept two of the Freedom and Independence variants, the U.S. Navy has since announced plans to order up to ten additional ships of each class, for a total twelve ships per class. As of 2016, four ships are active and an additional six are under construction. Starting in 2019, ships of this class will be designated as fast frigates (FF) which will include increased firepower and heavier armor.
The ship is a semi-planing steel monohull with an aluminum superstructure. It is 377 feet (115 m) in length, displaces 3,500 metric tons, and can achieve 47 knots (87 km/h; 54 mph). The design incorporates a large reconfigurable seaframe to allow rapidly interchangeable mission modules, a flight deck with integrated helicopter launch, recovery and handling system and the capability to launch and recover boats (manned and unmanned) from both the stern and side.
The flight deck is one and a half times larger than that of a standard surface ship, and uses a Trigon traversing system to move helicopters in and out of the hangar. The ship has two ways to launch and recover various mission packages: a stern ramp and a starboard side door near the waterline. The mission module bay has a 3-axis crane for positioning modules or cargo. Problems with the electrical systems are the most serious problems with the Freedom class.
The fore deck has a modular weapons zone which can be used for a 57 mm gun turret or missile launcher. A Rolling Airframe Missile launcher is mounted above the hangar for short-range defense against aircraft and cruise missiles, and .50-caliber gun mounts are provided topside. The Fleet-class unmanned surface vessel is designed for operations from Freedom variant ships.
The core crew will be 40 sailors, usually joined by a mission package crew and an aviation detachment for a total crew of about 75. Automation allows a reduced crew, which greatly reduces operating costs, but workload can still be “gruelling”. During testing of the class lead, two ship’s companies will rotate on four-month assignments.
Four 750-kilowatt Fincantieri Isotta Fraschini diesel generators provide 3 megawatts of electrical power to power the ship systems.