Navy ponders expanded use of LCS fleet amid growing instability in Middle East

By Nick Wilson / January 9, 2024 at 9:00 AM

As instability grows in the Middle East, the Navy is considering deploying more Littoral Combat Ships to the Mediterranean and Red Sea to expand U.S. naval presence in the region, the commander of Naval Surface Forces said Friday.

A string of missile and drone attacks on U.S. warships has spurred the Navy to consider increasing the number of hulls in the Red Sea, Vice Adm. Brendan McLane affirmed, saying Freedom-variant LCS Indianapolis (LCS-17) is already operating in the area.

“It certainly is possible, long-term, to be able to use our LCS from both coasts, the Freedom-class and the Independence-class, really worldwide,” McLane told reporters ahead of the Surface Navy Association’s National Symposium.

Despite continued attempts by the Navy to retire LCSs early -- the most recent 30-year shipbuilding plan looks to decommission seven of the ships over the next three years, including two in fiscal year 2024 -- the service has been working to boost the offensive firepower of the LCS fleet.

By FY-26, The Navy plans to outfit all trimaran-hulled Independence ships with the Naval Strike Missile -- an anti-surface cruise missile with a range of up to 300 nautical miles -- and equip all monohull Freedom-variant ships with the missile by FY-32.

The Navy has also indicated it is considering equipping LCSs with Tomahawk missiles following an October demonstration in which Savannah (LCS-28) test-fired a Standard Missile-6 using a containerized launch system.

“The exercise demonstrated the modularity and lethality of Littoral Combat Ships and the ability to successfully integrate a containerized weapons system to engage a surface target,” Navy spokesperson Cmdr. Arlo Abrahamson told Inside Defense Friday. “The exercise will inform continued testing, evaluation and integration of containerized weapons systems on afloat platforms.”

The addition of these offensive strike capabilities would expand the LCS’s firepower and add new relevance for the ships, originally designed for near-shore operations, in a fight against a near-peer adversary.