U.S. Navy Christens its Last Independence-Class Littoral Combat Ship

USS Pierre
Courtesy Austal USA

Published May 23, 2024 4:02 PM by The Maritime Executive


The U.S. Navy has christened the final Independence-class littoral combat ship, USS Pierre (LCS-38), bringing the controversial program one step closer to completion. 

The U.S. Navy is retiring its earliest LCS warship deliveries, which it has determined are excess to requirements. The youngest to exit the fleet, the Freedom-class USS Sioux City, was five years old at decommissioning in 2023. The service continues to take new deliveries of both classes, and USS Pierre will be the last of the Independence aluminum-hulled trimarans. Three more Freedom-class monohulls are currently in fitting out. 

The two LCS classes are quite different in design, but they were both intended to fulfill the same multirole mission set in shallow-water environments, tailored for the War on Terror and the U.S. military's focus on low-intensity combat in the Persian Gulf at the time. Swappable "mission packages" would give the vessels the ability to perform mine countermeasures, surface warfare, antisubmarine warfare and other roles. The changeable-equipment concept proved impractical, and each class was reassigned to a specific mission set and a specific homeport - the Freedom-class to antisubmarine warfare (ASW), based out of Mayport, and the Independence-class to mine countermeasures, based in San Diego. When the Freedom-class developed issues with its propulsion and its ASW system, then-Chief of Naval Operations Mike Gilday asked Congress to decommission all nine currently-operating vessels before the end of their service life. Five have been removed from service.

The Navy has also asked for early retirement for the first four Independence-class hulls in order to rightsize the fleet, but it has found new missions to make use of the vessel's capabilities - like conducting freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, supporting new unmanned capabilities, or hosting Coast Guard drug-interdiction teams. Pierre will be based in San Diego, like the other Independence-class hulls, and will deploy in the Indo-Pacific. 

"As we christen the USS Pierre, we also celebrate the extraordinary crews that will sail this ship, employing the capabilities and versatility of the Littoral Combat Ship class, which will continue to play a pivotal role in safeguarding our nation’s interests now and for years to come," said Rear Adm. Kevin Smith, the program executive officer for small and unmanned combatants.  

As the Navy has transitioned away from aluminum hulled shipbuilding and back to all-steel-hull construction, Austal has added a steel production line and is rapidly acquiring new contracts. It is building new tugs and research ships for the Navy, the rebid Offshore Patrol Cutter program for the Coast Guard, and is considered a top competitor for an eventual contract to build Constellation-class frigates alongside Marinette Marine (as a "follow-on yard").