In Late Test for the Freedom-Class LCS, USS Sioux City Heads to Europe
The Freedom-class littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS 11) has deployed across the Atlantic, marking the first time that an LCS has operated in U.S. 6th Fleet. It may well be a swan song: if the U.S. Navy follows through on its most recent budget plan, Sioux City is slated for early decommissioning, along with every other currently operating Freedom-class LCS.
In a statement, the U.S. Navy emphasized the Freedom-class' strengths - high speed, access to littoral waters, and an ability to pick up routine taskings. The lightly-armed LCS was designed in part to carry out maritime security operations, joint exercises and freedom of navigation patrols, freeing up larger surface combatants for high-end operations.
“Sioux City’s deployment allows us to integrate the LCS’ unique operational capability into our already diverse fleet,” said Vice Adm. Gene Black, commander of U.S. Sixth Fleet. “The agility of Littoral Combat Ships allows them to operate in both near-shore and open-ocean environments, enhancing our ability to provide security and stability across the European theater.”
Sixth Fleet is particularly active at the moment, given heightened tensions between NATO and Russia, and several East Coast-based destroyers have already rotated through Europe since February. The Navy suggested that Sioux City might be able to expand the availability of larger surface combatants in the theater. “This deployment will expand the relevance of these ships [LCS], particularly their ability to relieve larger surface combatants in key surface-mission areas," said Cmdr. Scott Whitworth, Sioux City’s commanding officer.
It is the first time that a Freedom-class LCS has deployed to 6th Fleet, according to the Navy, and it could be among the last. In its FY2023 budget request, the service told Congress that it would like to decommission nine Freedom-class LCS hulls before the end of their expected service life, including the 2018-built USS Sioux City. If it is not blocked by Congress, the plan would see the deactivation of every currently operational hull in the class. The youngest of the vessels on this list, USS St. Louis, was delivered less than two years ago.
The Navy still has six more Freedom-class LCS hulls in various stages of construction and fitting-out, and it has not announced any change to its plans to take further deliveries. The decommissioning plan has no impact on the fleet of Independence-class LCS vessels, which share the "littoral combat ship" name but were built to a radically different design.
The procurement of both LCS classes has been truncated in favor of the new Constellation-class frigate, which is based on a conventional European hull design.