The US Navy has announced the award of a construction contract for the Austal designed Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) project. The US $223 million contract for the first of two planned “Flight 0” vessels was awarded to prime contractor Bath Iron Works, a General Dynamics company which has teamed with Austal, the designer and builder of the LCS seaframe. The aluminium ships will be built at the Austal USA yard in Mobile, Alabama. Approximately half of the contract value will be the Austal component for construction of the seaframe, representing the company’s largest ever individual contract.
The LCSs will be the most advanced high speed military craft in the world and are intended to operate in coastal areas globally. As a key part of the US Navy fleet, they will be highly manoeuvrable and configurable to support mine detection / elimination, anti-submarine and surface warfare. The trimaran hull form permits the ship to carry a large capacity of weapons packages.
The basis of Austal’s seaframe design is the 127 metre trimaran hull “Benchijigua Express”, recently delivered as a passenger-vehicle ferry to a leading Spanish ferry operator. The benefits of this hull in commercial service are better seakeeping, passenger comfort and efficiency. For naval operators these features and a beam (width) of 31.6 metres combine to provide a ship with superior speed (in excess of 40 knots / 74 km/h), flexibility, shallow draft, payload and significant aviation capabilities over conventional designs. The ship carries two large helicopters which can be operated in adverse sea conditions because of the extremely stable trimaran hull.
Construction work on a new production facility, incorporating two large assembly halls, has almost quadrupled the size of the original Austal USA facility in readiness for production of the LCSs. An official opening ceremony is planned for November 17, 2005 with a keel laying ceremony for the first vessel expected in early December. While the ships will be built in the United States, there has been a substantial benefit flow back to Australia where much of the ship final design has been conducted. Austal has assembled a dedicated team of over 50 naval architects, engineers and other designers for the design phase, creating internal career opportunities and local employment in the process.