14 Years After First Delivery, An LCS Deploys to the Middle East

suez canal
USS Sioux City transits the Suez Canal, marking the first time that an LCS has entered 5th Fleet (USN)

Published May 30, 2022 4:52 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Saturday, the LCS USS Sioux City arrived in U.S. 5th Fleet, marking the first time a littoral combat ship has deployed for patrol work in the Middle East - exactly the mission the class was designed for, but nearly 14 years late.

The ship and her crew of 75 have reached the Red Sea after departing Mayport, Florida in April. Sioux City will support a newly established multinational task force, Combined Task Force (CTF) 153, a division of Bahrain-based Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). 

The new unit will be focused on maritime security and capacity building in the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandeb and Gulf of Aden. Sioux City provides a U.S. Navy platform that would otherwise be filled by an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer or a Ticonderoga-class cruiser - the kind of high-end surface warfare vessels needed for conventional deterrence, carrier escort and missile defense in 7th Fleet and 3rd Fleet. 

This is exactly the mission profile that LCS was designed to fill: coastal maritime security patrols facing a lightly-armed threat, freeing up high-end assets for service elsewhere. However, the mission has been long delayed. The Freedom-class hulls have been plagued by high maintenance costs and design deficiencies, including problems in the development of modular "mission packages" and bearing failures in their propulsion system combining gear. Because of these deficiencies, the Freedom-class has only deployed in 4th Fleet in recent years, close to home and far from adversaries. 

After the cancellation of the Freedom-class' anti-submarine warfare mission package earlier this year, the Navy has proposed to decommission all of the first 10 vessels in the class (including Sioux City). It is considering transferring them to an ally, freeing up resources to prepare for the high-end fight. 

The class was delivered lightly-armed, with just one 57mm main cannon permanently fitted. Sioux City deployed to the Middle East with two additional 30mm chain guns, but did not appear to have mounted the new Naval Strike Missile package for surface warfare before departure, according to USNI News.

“We’re excited to welcome a littoral combat ship to the Middle East for the first time,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces. “Sioux City’s arrival is not only historic but essential to regional maritime security given its immediate integration with our new multinational naval task force.”

Last year, Sioux City operated in the Caribbean Sea in support of 4th Fleet's counternarcotics mission. In April 2021, her crew and an embarked U.S. Coast Guard boarding team seized 600 kilos of cocaine with an estimated street value of $24 million. In October, the ship seized another 500 kilograms of cocaine worth $20 million in the Caribbean.

“We're thrilled to have Sioux City join our team,” said Capt. Robert Francis, commander of CTF 153. “They’ve worked collaboratively in bringing enhanced capabilities to other regions and that's certainly what we’re looking forward to here in the Middle East while operating with our international partners.”