The US Navy’s newest ship is designed to battle Iranian attack boats, clear mines from the Strait of Hormuz, chase down Somali pirates and keep watch on China’s warships. The ones built here even look menacing, like Darth Vader on the sea.
“It’s going to scare the hell out of folks,” said representative Jo Bonner, the Alabama Republican who represents Mobile and is one of the ship’s biggest boosters in Congress.
One of the two $700 million ships completed so far has had a major leak and crack in its hull, while the other is at sea, testing equipment that is failing to distinguish underwater mines from glints of light on the waves. More ominously, a report late last year by the Pentagon’s top weapons tester said the ship “is not expected to be survivable in a hostile combat environment.”
But for better or worse, the Pentagon and the Obama administration are embracing the Littoral Combat Ship as the future of naval warfare and just what is needed to meet 21st-century threats.
Able to operate on the high seas and along shallow coastlines (the “littorals”), the fast, manoeuverable ship is central to President Obama’s strategy of projecting American power in the Pacific and the Persian Gulf. It adds a relatively small and technologically advanced ship — part of what former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld envisioned as a lean, proficient military — to America’s traditional blue-water navy of aircraft carriers and destroyers.
“This ship is the right ship at the right time,” Robert O Work, the under secretary of the navy, said in a recent interview. “We’ve got to prove it to the naysayers.”