Home » Aviation » USS Coronado Departs San Diego For First Independence-Variant LCS Deployment


USS Coronado Departs San Diego For First Independence-Variant LCS Deployment

The littoral combat ships USS Independence (LCS 2), back, and USS Coronado (LCS 4) are underway in the Pacific Ocean in April 2014. US Navy photo.

The littoral combat ships USS Independence (LCS 2), back, and USS Coronado (LCS 4) are underway in the Pacific Ocean in April 2014. US Navy photo.

USS Coronado (LCS-4) departs its San Diego homeport today for an extended maiden deployment in the western Pacific, making it the first of the aluminum, triple-hulled Littoral Combat Ships to make an operational cruise.

In addition to demonstrating the operational capabilities of the Independence-variant LCSs, Coronado will be the first LCS to deploy with a composite aviation detachment that combines a manned MH-60S helicopter and a MQ-8B Fire Scout rotary wing unmanned aerial vehicle.

Although Coronado’s crew of 70 said goodbye to family and friends at Naval Station San Diego today, its deployment will not start officially until August, a Naval Surface Force Pacific spokeswoman told USNI News. The ship will go first to Hawaii to participate in the massive Rim of the Pacific international naval exercises involving ships, aircraft and personnel from 27 nations.

“We’re excited to have USS Coronado taking part in the world’s largest international maritime exercise,” Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, commander of U.S. 3rd Fleet, said in a Navy news release.
“This ship will play a critical role in the fleet and in our nation’s defense. RIMPAC provides a good opportunity for our partner navies to work with the ship and see how it can contribute to collective regional security.”

During the RIMPAC operations, Coronado will fire a Harpoon missile, the first time an LCS will shoot the large anti-ship weapon that normally is employed by larger warships.

But that will be only the latest in a string of weapons tests Coronado has conducted during its workup for the first deployment. In 2014 it fired the Norwegian-produced Naval Strike Missile in a foreign comparative test. In 2015 it tested the proposed LCS surface warfare mission package, with the Mk 110 57mm gun and the Mk 46 30mm gun, against single and multiple fast inshore attack craft. And earlier this month Coronado successfully employed the SeaRAM self-defense system against a simulated ant-ship cruise missile. It had test fired a SeaRAM in 2015 as part of the Navy’s efforts to certify the system to provided added self-protection for surface warship against the proliferating cruise missile threat.

Following the RIMPAC participation, Coronado will sail west for what is scheduled to be a 16-month deployment during which it will be based at the Changi naval base in Singapore and will operate with the U.S. 7th Fleet and conduct individual training exercises with a variety of allied and partner nations in the region, similar to what USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) had done during its deployment the year before, the Navy spokeswoman said.

Navy officials have said that because of its size and ability to operate in confined and shallow water, the LCS is better than the larger Arleigh Burke-class destroyers to train with the smaller vessels used by most of the friendly navies in Southeast Asia.

Coronado also will be conducting the first extended operational test of the composite rotary-wing aviation unit, with a Seahawk helicopter and Fire Scout UAV, operated by a detachment from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron Twenty-three (HSC-23). Pairing the two aircraft would allow the unmanned Fire Scout to conduct long surveillance missions, saving the more sophisticated and expensive manned helicopter to respond to any threat. The Fire Scout will be the first of its type equipped with the improved AN/ZPY-4 maritime surveillance radar by Telephonics, and an upgraded mission control station from Raytheon.

Sailors aboard the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) prepare to launch an MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35 on Aug. 16, 2015. US Navy photo.

Sailors aboard the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) prepare to launch an MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35 on Aug. 16, 2015. US Navy photo.

During its extended deployment, Coronado will experience at least two complete turnovers of its crew, in keeping with the evolving 3-2-1 concept, in which three different crews would rotate through two ships to keep one deployed. The crew of 70 is larger than originally conceived for LCS and reflects early experiences that showed the lower manning put excessive strain on the crew and did not allow for proper maintenance and on-board training.

The crew departing today, LCS Crew 204, is commanded by Cmdr. Scott Larson, who previously commanded two coastal patrol ships during deployments to the Persian Gulf.

“It is an honor and privilege to deploy the first LCS-2 variant to the 7th Fleet AOR (area of responsibility),” Larson said in the Navy news release.
“It’s time to demonstrate the full potential of these ships to the fleet, and I have every confidence that the Coronado team is poised to execute at a high level of vital operational tasking.”

Coronado’s mission also will be an opportunity for the Navy to show it has corrected the maintenance and material problems that hobbled Fort Worth on its first operational deployment and crippled USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) shortly after entering Navy service. Both of those ships are in the traditional single-hulled Freedom-class. Fort Worth experienced a partial propulsion system failure Jan. 12 while docked in Singapore and had to return to San Diego on its backup system. The damage to its complex gear system was attributed to the crew’s failure to provide adequate lubrication. Less than a month earlier, Milwaukee had a complete propulsion shutdown while sailing from its construction shipyard in Wisconsin. It had to be towed to Norfolk, Va., and subsequent inspections revealed small metal particles in the gears’ oil and filters.

The problems with the two ships added to the controversy over the LCS program, which has been criticized because the first ships were well over the predicted price and behind schedule. Some critics also argue that the lightly armed ships, built to modified commercial standards rather than normal combatant requirements, could not survive in a conflict. The Navy remains at odds with Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who has directed a reduction in the planned buy from 52 ships to 40 and a downselect to one of the two current builders. The Freedom-variant ships are built by Lockheed Martin and Marinette Marine in Marinette, Wisc. The Independence-variant ships are produced by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala.

Due to the timing of the planned downselect, Coronado’s deployment will be the only operational use of an Austal ship prior to the Navy’s decision on who will build the follow-on frigate program. Though program officials told USNI News that the downselect won’t be based on how well each variant performed during deployments, the Navy will be able to better validate builders’ assumptions based on real-world data collected while operating out of Singapore.

  • RobM1981

    I’m a firm believer in using magnesium for the hulls, instead of aluminum. It’s lighter than aluminum, and I think it burns even hotter. If the goal is “maximum vulnerability,” then we should replace the aluminum with magnesium. Then the LCS would be *even faster.*

    It’s nice to have such a fast ship. When a really fast ship ignites after being hit, it makes an impressive streak as it passes by…

    • old guy

      LOVE YOUR CRITIQUE. However, if I may correct your observation a bit.
      1. Al alone does not burn, but it will soften at 900 degrees F and melt at about 1238 degrees F
      2. On the other hand, if you cleverly combine Al and Mg you gat THERMITE, the marvelous mixture which we used to burn down Tokyo in WW2.
      3. Please make certain that the Navy is aware of this unique opportunity

      • Bull Jones

        The Thermite I mix and use weekly is powdered iron oxide and powdered aluminum.

        • old guy

          Yes. I just did;t want to say it, but I’m sure it’s easy to find out the mix. As i remember they were 1 Kg bomblets.

    • Pat McDonald

      Both Al and Mg have ignition temperatures, although Al burns more easily in particulate firm. A non oxidising ceramic insoluable in seawater and with a high tensile strengrh would make stronger hulls again, The snag is over-engineering like that is, with 21st century warheads, a small ship is going to get so hard, it might not matter anyway.

    • B.rad

      Saves on flares I guess…

  • NavySubNuke

    I wonder if LCS-2 will ever make an actual “deployment” – although I wouldn’t be surprised to see it sail down to Columbia and back so that SECNAV could call it a deployment.
    It is hard to get excited about this development considering the little crappy ships at this point still provide little to no capability for the fleet and are instead just soaking up manpower, money, and shipyard capacity that could be used to support actual warships.
    Oh well – at least SECNAV gets to boast about how big the “battle fleet” is under his watch – and as long as you ignore the fact that the “battle fleet” count now includes things like little crappy ships and hospital ships it sounds like a good boast.

  • PolicyWonk

    Coronado’s mission also will be an opportunity for the Navy to show it has corrected the maintenance and material problems that hobbled Fort Worth on its first operational deployment and crippled USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) shortly after entering Navy service.

    ==============================================
    That’s nonsense: those were “Freedom” class LCS’s, and Coronado is an “Independence” class: Despite being able to accept/use the same mission packages (and sharing the uniquely scathing reviews from every auditing agency, including the Navy’s own Inspector General) they are completely different designs, and otherwise only share the same classification of “LCS”.

    If the desire was show that the Navy corrected the myriad of LockMart LCS problems, if would have to (presumably) require demonstrating that with a Freedom class LCS.

    The Independence class, at least, has suffered less embarrassing incidents (when compared to the Freedom class) and has apparently managed to function as a reliable ship.

    • NavySubNuke

      I may be wrong but I don’t believe you can take a “odd” mission package and load it onto an “even” hull. I am almost certain that the “odd” mission modules can only be used on “odd” hulls and vice versa.
      That said – I may be using wrong or incorrect information as I can’t find a source that says for sure.
      Of course since the program office has yet to deliver a function anti-mine or anti-submarine module and DOT&E says the current anti-surface module delivers only modest results who knows what the actual modules will look like.

      • PolicyWonk

        Really? I hadn’t heard that they weren’t compatible. But that makes the concept of the “mission package” far worse if that is indeed that case…

        • NavySubNuke

          As I said I can’t remember for sure and I may be wrong – but I remember that being part of the controversy with the Navy refusing to down select to a single hull form in order to maximize the pork (while also maximizing the construction, sustainment, and manpower costs).

          • El_Sid

            Yep, you’re wrong – you’re thinking of the fact that the USN quite like the two designs because they are better at different things. So the monohulls are more manouevrable and so better suited to tight areas like the Gulf, whereas the trimarans have more room internally and are probably more suited to eg the MCM module.

          • NavySubNuke

            Hard to argue that one is better at something than the other considering neither hull form is good for anything at this point. But don’t worry – its nothing a few more billion can’t fix…..

          • B.rad

            Having operated civilian trimaran and monohulls I question your statement that monos are more maneuverable. Tri’s are able to “pivot” quickly due to the distance between the screws, whereas mono hulls are sluggish.

  • Ed L

    Are any of the LCS’s in the Med? Plenty of small ports are there that an LCS could hide in.

    • NavySubNuke

      No – the only “deployments” so far have been to pack – two by the “odd” hulls and now one by an “even” hull.

    • PolicyWonk

      NSN is right – neither variant of LCS has been deployed for real work.

      In fact, LCS was so far behind the 8-Ball, that the USN up-gunned the venerable PC/Cyclones, and sent them to the Persian Gulf to do the work that LCS was (only in theory) designed for.

      The primary difference in this case, is that the Cyclones are (for their size) are heavily armed, well protected, and designed/intended to fight. Neither variant of LCS shares any of these virtues (even with the “surface warfare” mission package), according to Adm. Jonathan Greenert (interview on Breaking Defense).