The Navy has plans for a 55-vessel LCS fleet that will anchor the surface-ship force. Sized between a corvette and a frigate, the ship has the perfect footprint, service officials say, for the type of coastal missions the Navy will have to perform in the Pacific and other global spots—countermine operations, antisubmarine warfare, counter-piracy and similar assignments.
The leading contractors for combat-ship expenses are the two LCS primes: Lockheed Martin, with $906.3 million in 2011 transactions for the Freedom-class version; and Austal USA, which builds the LCS-2 Independence-class version, with $845.8 million.
The LCS work catapults Lockheed Martin and Austal—relative newcomers to the Navy shipbuilding fraternity—into the third and fourth spots, respectively, among surface-fleet primes for 2011, the analysis shows. Austal also builds the JHSVs.
While most of the focus about the Pacific pivot has been on the reestablishment and sustainment of destroyers and other vessels of the Navy's blue-water fleet, the service also is seeking to anchor its forward presence with the development of sea sprinters—such as the JHSV—that can race from point to point, carrying people and supplies.
The way Navy brass see it, ships like JHSV and LCS will allow the U.S. to expand and solidify its footprint without investing and risking too much national collateral. The Navy wants to work the two ships in tandem, leveraging their various strengths.
The JHSV, for example, is not built to be a combat ship, and the vessel's concept of operations calls for it to rely on other ships for protection. “We will marry up with other ships,” says Capt. Douglas Casavant, master of JHSV-1 USNS Spearhead, which is a Military Sealift Command Vessel. “That will primarily be LCS,” he adds. “They will plow the road that we will follow carrying the gear.”
And it's easy to see why Navy officials and the rest of the military, particularly special operations forces, are starting to feel the love for the JHSV, a floating warehouse that can transit relatively short distances with loads ranging from tanks and helicopters to containerized cargo, along with the personnel needed to support the associated operations.
“What we have here,” Casavant says, in showcasing the internal warehousing space during a tour of the USNS Spearhead, “is 20,000 sq. ft. of flexibility.”
With 896 tie-downs to anchor cargo and containers, a 600-ton lift capability and comfortable seating for 312 passengers, the Spearhead can carry a lot of assets.