Navy littoral ship USS Coronado soon to be christened
There are only three other ships like the USS Coronado, but every six months, another will come on line until the Navy reaches 32 in number, at a cost of about $400 million each.
One would think a Navy warship operating in littorals, or close to shore, would have to be a somewhat small craft, but this ship is 490-feet long, can operate in 14-feet of water and hit speeds upward of 40 mph. The Coronado's captain is Commander Shawn Johnston.
“This ship is designed to replace really three classes of warship,” said Johnston, “replace the frigates, the perry class frigates, the coastal patrol craft, and the mine sweepers. This works into the overall plan for how many ships are deployed around the world.”
It's a 3-in-1 ship because it can be outfitted with three different modules: surface warfare with guns and missiles, as a mine sweeper, or an anti-submarine vessel – what three different types of ships have been doing in the past. It's like LEGO blocks: build whatever you want. There's also a flight deck with unmanned boats and aircraft, for example, an armed fire scout.
“We can send in ahead, being an unmanned vehicle, and spot a target out without it seeing the ship or have it fly into the beach and look for a camp site, especially with the pirates in Somalia,” said Sr. Chief James Richards.
Or drug interdiction.
“Search for drugs off the coast, try.. Cause we're fast, we can catch up to the speed boats that are delivering the drugs.”
So unlike a frigate or destroyer (which has one mission), these littorals can be outfitted to do three different missions and come at a far less cost.
“You'd rather have a ship worth $400 million doing these missions, than a $1.8 billion warship doing that same kind of mission,” said Johnston.
And you don't need to line the deck with hundreds of sailors; these ships have a crew of 40. Going forward, if the Navy comes up with something new to counter an evolving threat, these ships can adapt.
“If a company wants to make something new, put it on board, plug it into the data port, and electricity, and we have something new.”
There are not likely to be anymore big ships doing battle out at sea, as in wars past. The threat, in the 21st Century, is more likely to be a terrorist operation or piracy.
“A lot of our battles are more close to the shore now, and we're losing a lot of the old frigates, and we need something comparable to go in, and have the shallow draft, high speed, and go in and out and manage that coastline.”
The Coronado will be commissioned this Saturday and home-ported in San Diego. A few others will be home-ported as they come on line in the years ahead.