With modern and unique designs, the US Nav’s Independence-class ships are currently the most modern and powerful littoral combat ship class in the world.
Recently, the US Navy is actively increasing its presence in Asia-Pacific with the deployment of two Independence-class of littoral combat ships to the South China Sea. In January 2020, US military sites and the Times of San Diego newspaper published photos of two Independence-class ships, including the USS Montgomery and USS Gabrielle Giffords in the South China Sea.
The presence of the US Navy Independence-class littoral combat ships has attracted a great deal of attention from regional and world media, especially China. This is considered one of the reactions of the US in the context that Beijing is increasingly aggressive in this sea.
Earlier, in September 2019, the US Navy and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations held the first joint naval exercise, the AUMX. In addition to sending warships and patrol aircraft, the United States also helps train some countries in Southeast Asia to maintain the strength to protect freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
The dispatch of warships including the Independence-class ships shows the determination of the United States and the international community to ensure freedom of trade in this sea. The South China Sea is the second busiest shipping route in the world after the Mediterranean.
Impressed by its appearance, Independence-class warships show the shift of American military doctrine, from reconnaissance and deterrence to increased close-range offensive capability. The littoral combat ship project was launched in the early 2000s. The goal was to create a small, stealthy, versatile, speedy surface vessels optimized for littoral operations against small craft.
The final design of the project was adopted with the victory going to Austal USA. The lead ship of the class, the Independent LCS-2 was laid down on January 19, 2006 and was officially commissioned in January 2010. As of 2019, a total of 10 vessels have been put into operation and an additional 9 are expected to be completed soon.
As an expensive project of the United States, the first Independence vessel cost more than $ 700 million in 2006, or about $ 1 billion in 2020. The next ships were cheaper, but also cost the United States $ 360 million each.
The design of the Independence class is extremely special with a trimaran hull and has a very low full load displacement, only about 3,100 tons. The length of the ships is 127m (418 ft), the beam is 104m (104 ft) and the draft is 4.3m (14 ft). Independence-class ships are said to be able to operate with great stability at sea, despite storms.
The front hull of the ships has a characteristic slender shape, blending into the square hull behind. The hull built with strong lightweight steel, it incorporates some low-observable stealth features and light armor. The superstructure is made of aluminum, 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.
At the stern, there was a helicopter deck and a hangar, which could accommodate one MH-60 Seahawk helicopter and two MQ-8 Fire Scouts or an MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. The vessel can be rapidly configured to carry rigid hull inflatable boats, are identified along the aft sides of the vessel for use with quick response teams.
The vessels has plenty of space inside to support multiple armored vehicles as well as crew attached. An access ramp fitted along the side of the vessel allows vehicles to disembark along a dock waiting area. Overall, the ship is a combination of a modular mission concept, which allows the integration of a range of mission modules to meet the mission-specific requirements.
The propulsion of the Independent-class is a combined diesel and diesel system, which integrates two German MTU 20V 8000 Series diesel engines are used in conjunction with two General Electric LM2500 gas turbines driving 2 American VULKAN shafts.
There are also four Wartsila waterjets installed as a retractable thruster at the bow, and four diesel generators.
Independence-class warships can reach a maximum speed of 44 knots, the range is 4,300 nautical miles at 18 knots, they are extremely agile ships.
The standard ship’s company is 40, although this can increase depending on the ship’s role with mission-specific personnel. The habitability area with bunks is located under the bridge. The helm is controlled by joysticks instead of traditional steering wheels.
As a littoral combat ship, the firepower fitted to the Independence class ships was not too powerful. Specifically, the ship is armed with a BAE Systems 57mm main gun. This gun can fire at 220 rounds per minute at targets up to 14 kilometers away. 400 ready rounds in the turret with two additional magazines of 240 rounds each.
Light armament consists of four 12.7mm M2 heavy machine guns.
For air defense, there is a SeaRAM close-range missile defense complex that acts as a Close In Weapon System. SeaRAM has a maximum range of 9 km and a maximum speed of Mach 2, it uses the sensors of the Phalanx 1B, but uses missiles instead of a 20 mm gun.
In addition, there are two 30mm Mk44 Bushmaster II guns and 24 AGM-114L Hellfire missiles, the most powerful firepower on board as planned part of Surface-to-Surface Warfare module.
MH-60 Seahawk helicopters and up to two MQ-8 Fire Scouts to enhance the patrol capabilities and maritime operations at sea. The MH-60 helicopter can be armed with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and cannons.
Sensor and Electronic systems
Sensors and processing systems for this class are the Thales NS100 three-dimensional surveillance radar and Kelvin Hughes Sharpeye navigation radar on-board the vessel allows the detection of surface targets in the jam-packed environment.
The STELOP 360° panoramic day and night camera package installed on the vessel integrates an all-round surveillance system and STELOP Compass D electro-optic directors for identifying targets.
With modern and unique designs, the US Nav’s Independence-class ships are currently the most modern and powerful littoral combat ship class in the world. Initially, Independence-class ships were properly operated, meaning nearshore operations, coastal protection, anti-smuggling, or at most only support amphibious assault.
However, due to practical requirements, the US Navy had to change its doctrine, turning these ships into high-speed frigates, accompanied by a program to upgrade firepower and weapons in the future, Independence-class ships will operate as frigates in deep waters.
Currently, the US Navy is rotating deployment of this warship class in Southeast Asia with a base in Singapore. It is expected that it will also be deployed to Japan to replace some of the old warships stationed here.
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