The last of the Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ships launches on Saturday

This class of ships was designed to perform various missions, such as surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and mine countermeasures in these combat zones.
Christopher McFadden
Image of the USS Freedom, the first in line of Freedom-class LCSs.

1st Class James R. Evans/Wikimedia Commons 

The latest in the line of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), the USS Cleveland (LCS 31), is to enter service. She will be launched into Wisconsin's Menominee River on Saturday, April 15, 2023.

The Cleveland is the 16th in her class and, more interestingly, will be the last ever. This will close a chapter on one of the most controversial classes of vessels in the United States Navy. LCSs have, to date, been famously plagued with technical issues and doubts as to how capable they might be in combat.

The term "littoral" concerning ships like the LCS refers to the coastal or near-shore areas where the water is shallow enough for ships to anchor or approach the shore. Littoral zones may include bays, estuaries, beaches, and other areas where land and water meet.

Littoral regions are strategically important to naval operations because they provide access to ports, harbors, and other necessary facilities for resupply, repairs, and additional logistical support. In addition, littoral regions can be necessary for conducting amphibious operations, such as deploying troops and equipment from ships to shore.

To this end, this class of ships was designed to perform various missions such as surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and mine countermeasures in these combat zones. LCSs consist of two main variants, the Freedom and Independence classes, which have different hull designs and functionalities. The Cleveland is an example of the monohull-style Freedom-class version. General Dynamics' Independence-class littoral warfare ship has a trimaran (one main central hull with two outrigger hulls).

To counter the dangers posed by asymmetrical, coastal, and shallow-water warfare, the LCS program was launched in 2002. Due to cost overruns and technological difficulties, the Navy ultimately decided to only purchase 35 LCSs instead of the original 55 that was initially planned.

USS Cleveland will contribute versatility as one of its strengths with its flexible and modular design. She will be able to perform a variety of duties including, but not limited to, surface warfare (SUW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), mine countermeasures (MCM), and support for special operations units. The ship can house up to 98 people and its core crew of roughly 50 sailors.

She also comes equipped with two MH-60R/S "Seahawk" helicopters, one MH-60R/S, and one MQ-8 "Fire Scout" unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The Cleveland can travel 3,500 nautical miles at 14 knots and can reach a top speed of around 40 knots. It can navigate coastal areas inaccessible to larger ships thanks to its modest draught of 14.1 feet.

As for offensive capabilities, she has a 57-mm Mk 110 cannon, a SeaRAM or Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) launcher, and several machine guns and small weapons. There is also the option for her to be equipped with Harpoon anti-ship missiles, Hellfire missiles, Naval Strike Missiles, Longbow Hellfire missiles, or Naval Strike Missiles.

The Cleveland and its personnel will be a part of the Mayport, Florida-based Littoral Combat Ship Squadron 2 (LCSRON TWO). After that, the world is her oyster, as the saying goes.

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