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After delays, LCS 2 completes builder trials

Oct. 21, 2009 - 04:34PM   |   Last Updated: Oct. 21, 2009 - 04:34PM  |  
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The Navy's second littoral combat ship, the Independence, finished its builder's trials Wednesday, more than three months after first sailing from its Mobile, Ala., shipyard for its tests at sea.

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The Navy's second littoral combat ship, the Independence, finished its builder's trials Wednesday, more than three months after first sailing from its Mobile, Ala., shipyard for its tests at sea.

The aluminum trimaran hit a top speed of 45 knots and kept a sustained speed of 44 knots during its full power run in the Gulf of Mexico, shipbuilder General Dynamics said in an announcement. It kept a high speed and stability despite eight-foot waves and 25-knot winds.

"Independence exceeded our expectations in terms of maneuverability, stability, handling and speed," said Jeff Geiger, president of the GD-owned Bath Iron Works, in the company's announcement.

Now that the Independence has finished its builder's trials, Navy inspectors will come aboard later this year for acceptance trials before the ship is finally delivered. Rear Adm. Bill Landay, the Navy's program executive officer for ships, has said the latest schedule calls for the Independence to be delivered before the end of 2009 and be commissioned sometime early next year.

Landay told Navy Times on Oct. 6 that engineers had to stop and start Independence's builder's trials since July to address early problems with the ship and to finish construction in some areas. The ship's jet drive room flooded, and it had vibration and temperature problems with its propulsion systems, Landay said.

The Independence is the second of two ships the Navy is considering for its planned fleet of 55 littoral combat ships, along with the Lockheed Martin-built Freedom, commissioned last November. The ships were built to swap inter-changeable equipment for three missions: mine countermeasures, surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare. Navy officials will decide next spring which version of LCS they will put into full-scale production.

That decision will take place during or after the Freedom's trial deployment, scheduled for early 2010, in which the ship will take a test mission to South America and the Pacific with its surface warfare mission module. But the down-select will take place before the Independence can do its own trial deployment, although Navy officials say they don't need to see its performance on a test mission to decide which LCS they'll buy.

Each LCS was initially pitched to Congress for a cost of about $220 million, but according to the Navy's latest budget figures, the Freedom has cost $637 million and the Independence has cost $704 million. The Navy has awarded contracts for a second Freedom-class ship — the Fort Worth — and a second Independence — the Coronado — but has not disclosed the value of the contracts.

Navy officials claim the ongoing competition between GD and Lockheed mean they can't release the ships' costs, although Landay said he hopes the Navy will reveal those costs soon.

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