The US will start deploying two of its once-highly touted “ships-of-the-future” to Singapore starting in 2016, IHS Jane’s 360 reports.
By 2016, the US Navy plans to permanently station and operate two Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) out of Singapore’s Changi Naval Base.
By 2018, the Navy hopes to deploy four of the vessels in order to upgrade the capability of the Navy’s Seventh Fleet.
The LCS was intended to be the Navy’s futuristic super-ship. It was envisioned as the first US combat vessel with the ability to remove underwater mines and take on swarm attacks of small craft in coastal waters and fight rival battleships in the open seas — all while being difficult to detect on radar, compared to traditional destroyers.
The ships came in way over-budget and didn’t have many advantages over existing craft. By 2014 the Navy ended up slashing their order from 52 to 32 ships.
But the Singapore deployment shows that the US military has still found an important use for the once-cutting-edge ship. In Asia, the vessels will help counter China’s attempts to establish itself as the unquestioned Naval power in the Pacific.
“When we have four LCS ships here by 2018, two of them will be the Freedom class while the other two will be the Independence class,” Rear Admiral Charles Williams told Jane’s. The two variants of the LCS will allow the Navy to more effectively project power throughout the region.
Shortcomings aside, the Independence-class LCS has “the largest flight deck on any of our ships short of the aircraft carriers and large deck amphibious ships,” Williams said.
This expansion of Naval vessels ported in Singapore is an outgrowth of the US’s “pivot to Asia,” a shift in military assets aimed at reassuring US allies in the region against a rising and expanding China. Singapore provides a safe and strategically located harbour for US vessels that is close to the current territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
So far, China has constructed over 1.5 square miles of artificial islands on top of reefs in the South China Sea.
The islands will serve as forward operating bases for the Chinese military. Various uninhabited reefs are being outfitted with ports and refuelling centres for ships while at least two airstrips have been built on the islands. Once construction is complete, Beijing will be able to use the bases to project their military force throughout the South China Sea.
The expansion of Chinese construction in the South China Sea is kicking off a series of territorial disputes with Beijing’s neighbours in the south, all of whom also have competing maritime claims to the reefs and islands:
Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines all have military bases within the South China Sea on islands that those countries control.
US ships in Singapore may also play a more active role in fighting piracy in the Strait of Malacca, located off the coast from Singapore, which is the world’s second busiest oil chokepoint.
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