The US Navy will have six Littoral Combat Ships deployed by the end of 2021, USNI News reported, citing Navy officials.
Later in 2021, two Independence-class LCS will join USS Tulsa and USS Charleston in the Western Pacific.
The two ships kicked off an expansive deployment across the Western Pacific earlier this year that began in Oceana and has ranged to as far as the Indian Ocean.
Two other LCS will deploy soon to U.S. Southern Command later in 2021.
Within the last year, seven LCS have operated in U.S. 4th Fleet as part of a counter-narcotics force expansion that began in 2020, 4th Fleet Commander Rear Adm. Donald Gabrielson told USNI News in a June interview.
“As a platform, [LCS] got a lot of utility in the kind of work that we’re doing, which from a naval perspective is about building the capacity and the capability of our partners in the region,” Gabrielson said.
“We’ve got lot of successes on that front. The ships are doing the other things that people would expect here as well – the detection and monitoring with the [Joint Interagency Task Force] South counter-narcotic mission, which also includes a lot of partner interaction. We’ve got 23 different nations that are connected to that effort.”
In addition to the counter-narcotic effort, LCS was key to expanding how the U.S. worked with partners in the region. Most of the forces the U.S. operates with in the region have smaller ships that work more easily with LCS than the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers that are three times the tonnage of both classes of LCS, he said.
“If you look at how our partners are operating, it’s kind of amazing. They have these tiny boats that are out there for weeks at a time – pretty far off the coast, even, you know, several hundred miles in some cases for a couple of them,” Gabrielson said.
“The advantage that LCS has is the size and the draft of the ship. [Those] enabled it to get into places where other ships cannot.”
These LCS are extremely useful as they reportedly have opened up places for the Navy to operate where they had not been for years, according to Capt. Tom Ogden, commander of the Singapore-based Destroyer Squadron 7.
“Gabby Giffords and Montgomery did stops, pre-COVID, in ports that we hadn’t been in a number of years. Puerto Princesa in the Philippines was one of them,” he said.
“The ability for the ship, with the steerable water jets that they have, even with less powerful tugs, you can do a lot of things on your own. Getting a DDG in and out of an austere port requires a little bit more support.”
In U.S. 7th Fleet, the Navy has operated its LCS out of the Changi base in Singapore, but is looking to expand to other places in the region, Japan-based fleet commander Vice Adm. Bill Merz said in May.
“Do we want to keep them in Sasebo, [Japan]? We’re kind of done parking things in the first island chain if I can avoid it,” he said.
“Right now, it’s still Singapore because that’s where the maintenance model is.”
LCS would be supported by contractor-led maintenance while they were forward deployed, but the service is moving toward more sailor-led maintenance. For example, the service positioned a maintenance team in Guam, Ogden said.
“The last two availabilities that we had on Tulsa and Charleston on Guam, we had maintenance execution teams from the LCS division 12 in San Diego. They came out and conducted maintenance on the ship,” he said.
“Not only did they do all the checks that were scheduled for them to complete, they completed checks that had been deferred in availabilities in the past … They’re building a level of knowledge and understanding of the equipment, which allows them to not only need new preventive maintenance, but then corrective maintenance as needed. The maintenance execution team expansion is a huge step forward.”
Ogden would not go into detail on the crew makeup, but LCS deploy with a total of 94 sailors – 70 for the core crew, including the MCM force, and an additional 24 that make up the aviation detachment for the MH-60 aboard, a Navy official confirmed to USNI News.
With more LCS moving into the fleet, Gabrielson said that the ships’ experiences in SOUTHCOM – particularly in counter-narcotics missions – are offering new lessons for LCS in other places around the globe.
“We spend every single day trying to find people that are trying to not be found in waters that are not easy to always operate in,” he said.
“They’re trying to take advantage of the terrain and the geography and they’re well-resourced. If we can find those guys, well, it’s going to make problems in other parts of the world much more solvable for us.”