Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus is in town today to announce the USS Charleston, a sleek, state-of-the-art warship, one of the Navy fleet’s fastest, set to be built in a Gulf Coast shipyard and designed to operate in far-forward combat zones where other ships can’t go.

The USS Charleston will be an Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), one of the newest and most-advanced ships in the world, stretching 418-feet long, 104-feet wide across a trimaran hull, and capable of reaching speeds over 50 mph. The Independence-class LCSs were proposed shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks and were originally developed with a new modular armament system that allows parts of the ship to be swapped out depending on its mission, which can include minesweeping, anti-sub operations, transport, and fighting small ships.

Despite weighing-in at over 2,300 tons, the USS Charleston’s trimaran design, or three-section hull, will let it drift into waters just 14 feet deep and provide stability in rough seas. Independence LCSs are equipped with massive waterjet propulsion systems that allow for fast, agile, and quiet operation. Along with its smaller, traditional-hull Freedom-class variant, Independence-class ships can cruise a full 10 knots faster than the frigate ships they’re replacing.

In an op-ed in today’s Post and Courier, Mabus emphasized the importance of maintaining a strong fleet and celebrated the naming of the new ship, tipping his cap to Charleston’s naval history. “That’s the unique contribution of the U.S. Navy and a role that only America can fill around the globe,” Mabus says.

The story of the LCS program hasn’t exactly been a smooth one though. Last year, the Pentagon dialed back its original order of 52 after early demonstrations of the ships showed some shortcomings, especially in its newly-designed modular equipment system. Throw in cost overruns on top of the $440 million sticker price and construction delays, and we have what sounds like a good-old fashioned expensive Pentagon R&D project on our hands.

USS Charleston is set to be delivered in 2017, but even Mabus admits that there are still plenty of gaps to fill in as the LCS program expands:

“Tough decisions and leadership still lie ahead to ensure that, as the nation’s Away Team, the Navy and Marine Corps maintain their role as the most powerful expeditionary force the world has ever known.”

Here are a few more photos of Independence-class Littoral Combat Ships, similar to what USS Charleston will look like:

YouTube video

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