In the late 1990s, the U.S. Navy decided it needed a small, cheap vessel to extended its reach into crowded, chaotic near-shore “littorals.” The result was the Littoral Combat Ship, a 3,000-ton warship roughly the size of a European corvette. The Navy contracted with two companies to build competing LCS designs: Lockheed Martin’s mono-hull USS Freedom (pictured) began trials in 2008; General Dynamic’s trimaran USS Independence will do so this year.
Freedom was designed with a “hybrid” propulsion system with diesel engines providing 10,000 horsepower for cruising, and 100,000-horsepower gas turbines for sprinting. “These are the largest marine gas turbines in the world — essentially the engines of a 777 jetliner,” said Operations Officer Tony Hyde. “The diesels we have [are] locomotive engines.” On her trials on the U.S. Great Lakes last fall, Freedom demonstrated an astonishing capability. By combining both propulsion suites, she could reach speeds approaching 50 knots. Most warships can make only 30 knots.
Commander Don Gabrielson, Freedom’s captain, said the ship’s high speed means she can respond quickly to littoral threats, such as smugglers and pirates in small boats, plus rival navies’ high-speed combatants. But that advantage has its cost.