On September 6th, the US Navy deployed its second littoral combat ship (LCS) – the USS Gabrielle Giffords to the Western Pacific not far from China.
The LCS USS Gabrielle Giffords is equipped with a new US “ship-killer” missile – the Naval Strike Missile and a newly-approved for missions MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. John Gay confirmed Giffords’ deployment, saying that the ship departed San Diego towards the Western Pacific on September 3rd.
The US Navy appears to be attempting to make the LCS mainstream, and not simply a limited-capability vessel with mission package development delays.
“LCS is mainstreamed. It equals the ability to deploy of our DDGs,” Vice Adm. Richard Brown told USNI News.
In just a few years, he explained, the Navy will have 66 LCS crews to support 38 LCS hulls in their deployments, training and testing activities. This compares to 68 destroyer crews as of September 2019. The LCS has a much smaller crew than a destroyer, and it has much higher operational capability.
According to an anonymous source, cited by Defense News, the LCS Gabrielle Giffords was specifically deployed to the Indo-Pacific theater, without providing any further details.
When equipped with Raytheon/Kongsberg-made Naval Strike Missile and the MQ-8C Fire Scout for surveillance, the ship can hit a target at approximately 100 miles, about 30 miles further than the published range of the current anti-ship missile, the Harpoon.
The deployment is potentially and very likely the latest sign that the US is attempting to increase pressure on China, not only through the trade war, but by pressure in and around the South China Sea as well.
The Navy also signaled its intention to deploy many more LCS to the Pacific.
In an August 2018 interview, Navy Surface Warfare boss Adm. Richard Brown told Defense News that once the deployments started, they weren’t going to stop.
“We are on track with the 2016 [chief of naval operations] review of the LCS … and I think we will see the first deployments next year and then happening continuously after that,” Brown said.
Currently the US Navy has 19 LCS, with the most recent one being delivered in June 2019, the USS Indianapolis. In 2018, for the FY 2019, the US Congress approved the purchase of 3 more LCS than the Navy requested, but at the same time it reduced funding for the critical sensors that actually make them valuable.
Another US Navy official praised the LCS progress, Program Executive Officer for Unmanned and Small Combatants Rear Adm. Casey Moton said that the ships were ready for actual missions and not simply training.
“We were in a stage of just a few ships, pretty intense focus … on an individual ship deploying to an individual spot,” Moton said of the status of the LCS program.
“And so I come back, and things have progressed. We are 19 ships delivered; four this year, I think, two or three left to go. A big change there. … We are now firmly into executing the LCS plan, the fleet plan, in terms of both the ships getting out there in their (training and deployment) cycles, getting the crews certified. … It’s in a different mode. The ships are out there; we are now putting them to good use and doing what we always hoped.”
Whether this sort of pressure against China would prove effective remains questionable.
It should be noted that the trade war is still on-going with the threat of severe escalation. On September 8th it was reported that Chinese exports to the US in August fell sharply, as a result of Trump’s threat of escalation. The “sharp fall” overall is 1% less compared to August 2018, with the biggest reduction being for June 2019, compared to June 2018 – 1.3%.
For US specifically, China’s August exports to the United States fell 16% year-on-year, slowing sharply from a decline of 6.5% in July. Imports from America were down 22.4%.
On September 1st, Washington imposed 15% tariffs on $112 billion of Chinese goods. These tariffs were announced by US President Donald Trump in August. Currently, more than two-thirds of the consumer goods the United States imports from China now face higher taxes.
MORE ON THE TOPIC:
- US-China Trade War Escalates Even Further
- After Promising First Half Of July, US-China Trade War Ramps Up In New Escalation