U.S. Navy officials have for months been trumpeting the need to develop a stronger base of smaller warships to help implement the Pacific pivot, and the service’s recently released shipbuilding plan backs that up with proposed procurement through the coming decades.
Not only does the 30-year shipbuilding strategy released to Congress by the Navy support buying 52 Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) but it also supports a next-generation LCS procurement as well as additional Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) acquisitions. LCS is the poster-child vessel of the future forward-based Asian coastal operational concept.
The Navy expects to finish its initial 52-LCS buy in 2026, according to the plan, with a final delivery about three years later. The ships are expected to have quarter-century lifespans, so the Navy plans to start procuring replacement ships in 2030.
What will those ships look like? The official designation in the procurement tables included in the 30-year plan is LCS-X, a reflection of the uncertainty over whether the next-generation ships will be updated LCSs or something different. Navy officials say they know the littoral or coastal combat missions will still be there—just as they are for the LCS fleet being currently procured and built—but the nature of those missions may be changed or expanded. For example, the future LCS-like ships could take on strike missions.
In recent exclusive interviews with the Aviation Week Intelligence Network, Vice Adm. Richard Hunt, the Navy director of staff and head of the LCS Council of Admirals formed to address the program’s problems, said he expects the ship class to change after the first series of vessels is designed, delivered and put to sea.
Hunt says he would not be surprised to see the LCS morph the same way theHornet evolved into a Super Hornet, which is essentially a different plane.
The Navy’s 30-year plan includes 30 LCS-X vessels as well as 10 JHSVs — another move, Navy officials say, to replace the current fleet of JHSVs as they reach the end of their lifespans. Navy officials say the future JHSVs do not have an “X” designation in the shipbuilding tables because they don’t expect their mission to change much over time, unlike the LCS mission, which many in the Navy expect to continue to evolve.
The JHSV was recently included under the LCS council’s purview and the Navy is developing a joint concept of operations for the ship classes. Austal USA, which builds the JHSV, also is part of the contracting team building theUSS Independence-class ships.
Another team, led by, is building the USS Freedom class ships.