The modern US Navy has a host of massive aircraft carriers and large destroyers designed for open ocean sea control and power projection. However, not all combat operations occur in the open sea. The navy has a need for a warship capable of amphibious operations in shallow water, water too shallow for the big destroyers and frigates. To meet this need the USN developed the littoral combat ship program. To manage this program the navy took a lesson from the past history of naval aviation. Before World War Two both naval aviation and the US Army Air Corp, later USAF, used the same procedure to get new aircraft. They would send out operation requirements and invite various aircraft manufacturers to prepare designs to compete for a government contract.

Usually when the winning design was chosen only that manufacturer received the contract. It was tough luck for the losers. Sometimes the navy was burned by the process, hence the Brewster Buffalo. However, sometimes two company’s designs were selected for production, allowing for an operational comparison. One example is that the B-29 Super Fortress and B-32 Dominator were produced. “Dominator? What’s a Dominator?” you may ask. It was a competing design against the Boeing heavy bomber but was only produced in limited numbers.

For the littoral combat ship program employed the same process but took it a step closer to the aircraft design bidding process. The ships would not be built by federal navy yards, such as the huge Norfolk yard, which give birth to massive nuclear carriers. What’s more the competitors were name familiar with aviation enthusiasts, Lockheed-Martin and General Dynamics. The design requirements for the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) were for a ship of an exceptionally high speed, shallow draft and large capability for vehicles and troops. Two designs, not one were chosen to be produced so the navy could compare the designs in actual operations, as it is the operational experience of a design, which brings out in time the true strengths and weaknesses of any design. Instead of the old process of winner takes all, because of the huge expense of developing and producing a new warship, even the design proving less efficient would receive follow up orders but in fewer numbers than the winner.

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Lockheed-Martin, famed for the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Martin PBM Mariner of World War Two, received the first order and the result was USS Freedom LCS-1. The result was a more traditional single hull design but General Dynamics marched to the beat of a different drummer for USS Independence LCS-2. Instead of the traditional single hull construction, the Independence was designed with a trimaran, triple hull design. Anyone who has sailed a catamaran knows the benefits of a multi-hull design. You can get a large deck space and hence lift capability and minimize under water surface area and hence resistance, allowing high speed and heavy lift. The design was based on the three hull Benchijigua Express built by the Australian company of Austal, a member of the General Dynamics consortium.

The design for the Independence class ships allows for he 418-feet (127m) ship with a crew of only 40 to travel at a sustainable speed of 50-knots (60mph/90kph) with a huge range of 10,000nm (19,000km) with a 15,200 square feet (1,410 square meter surface area, which a greater lift capability than a large destroyer. With a designed payload volume of 11,000 cubic meters, the Independence is designed for execution of multiple missions without need to refit the ship. The modules are custom tailored for the intended mission. The volume allows for the inclusion of two separate mission modules. The 11,000 square feet flight deck can support two SH-60 Seahawk helicopters, one CH-53 Sea Stallion or many Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) like the Predator. The wide flight deck afforded by the triple hull design allows for flight operations even in heavy seas.

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After loading mission modules container in 20-feet shipping containers, the Independence still has room for four lanes of Stryker combat vehicles or armored HumVees, which come in through a side door ramp for Roll On/Roll Off (Ro-Ro) capability. The ship has an elevator so shipping container mission modules can be loaded by air even when the Independence class ships are at sea. Even the armament of the ship can be custom tailored based upon the missions and helicopter weapons packages of torpedoes and missiles allow for anti-shipping, anti-submarine, radar picket, airlift, rescue and other missions.

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Although not officially classified as a stealth ship the superstructure is angled back to reduce the radar signature of the ship. In addition to reduction of the radar signature the Independence class has further defensive systems. On the crown of the hangar is the SeaRAM missile defense system, which is a multi-platform system consisting of Phalanx 1B CIWS and sensors and an eleven canister Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) system. Other permanent armament is a turret mounted Mk 110 57mm gun and four .50 machine guns. Of course additional armament can added through mission module packs. Not only is the exterior appearance radical and futuristic but even the interior is different. Conning the ship uses a joystick not a wheel. Like submarines the Independence class has gold and blue crews, which alternate allowing the ship to stay at sea. The power plant is also totally unique with two gas turbines and two diesel engines, each of which has its own drive shaft and steerable jet thruster with another bow thruster for maneuvering. While the USS Freedom LCS-1 attains high speed through massive horse power, Independence LCS-2 uses her three hull design to achieve the same speed. General Dynamics has touted the fact that the Independence uses only two-thirds the fuel of USS Freedom. The company says that this makes their design more cost effective over the life span of the ship compared to that of Freedom. However, the Congressional Budget Office has rained on General Dynamics parade by pointing out that fuel costs amount to 18% of the life time costs of a ship and that the higher cost of the Independence over the Freedom would probably counteract any savings in fuel.

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After receiving the contract for LCS-2 in July 2003, General Dynamics turned it its Austal for the actual production at the company’s Austal USA facility in Mobile , AL , which received their contract October 14, 2005. The Independence was laid down January 19, 2006 and launched April 26, 2008. She was christened on October 4, 2008 and began builder’s trials July 2, 2009 in Mobile Bay and in the Gulf of Mexico . Builder’s trials finished October 21, 2009 and USN acceptance trials started November 19, 2009. She was accepted by the navy on December 16, 2009 commissioned at Mobile on January 16, 2010. The budget savings claims of General Dynamics were much impacted by the fact that Independence was more than 100% over-budget. The USN contemplated a ship unit cost of $220 million but the Independence weighed in at $704 million. Ouch!

A second member of the class was canceled on November 1, 2007. However, this ship was reordered May 1, 2009 and is the USS Coronado LCS-4.  The Bath Iron Works, a subsidiary of General Dynamics, was contracted as the lead team for construction of the Coronado . Coronado was laid down at Mobile on December 17, 2009 and is scheduled for delivery in May 2012. For FY 2010 the two designs Freedom vs Independence would have a bid off with the winner getting contracts for two ships and the loser a contract for one unit. Partners in construction of the Coronado include Austal USA of Mobile, AL for the actual construction, BAE Systems of Rockville, MD,; General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems of Fairfax, VA,; L3 Communications Marine Systems of Leesburg, VA, Maritime Applied Physics Corporation of Baltimore, MD, and Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems of Baltimore, MD. The Navy wanted a second source for bidding for series production of the class, so in February 2010 Austal and Bath Iron Works so that Bath Iron Works could compete as the second source for series production, although their partnership for building the Coronado continued. Austal submitted an offer to build ten ships of the Independence class on July 12, 2010. On January 6, 2011 did win a contract to build up to ten Independence class ships. The third ship in the series for FY2011 is scheduled to be laid down early in 2012 for delivery in 2015. The value of the contract is estimated at 432 million dollars for the 3rd ship in the class. 2011 is being used to expand the Austal construction facility in Mobile and to develop a larger work force. Lockheed Martin received a similar contract for possible construction of up to ten Freedom class ships with the construction of the second ship for FY2011estimated at 437 million dollars. So the competition between the two designs still continues, as part of government plan to keep the competition going in order to keep costs down. Long term naval plans contemplate building 55 littoral combat ships. Coronado is still under construction in Mobile with anticipated delivery in 2012.

C Sprue
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Cyber-Hobbies/Dragon 1:700 Scale USS Coronado LCS-4
Considering that the USS Independece was just commissioned slightly under a year and a half year ago, the release of the Independence class kits have been remarkably fast. Released under the Cyber-Hobbies mark, the Coronado kit is produced by Dragon. The Cyber-Hobby Coronado has some differences from their Independence kit. The actually ship is unlike any other ship afloat and Dragon has produced a comprehensive kit. It can be built full hull or waterline as Dragon lower hulls for both formats. The long narrow forecastle resembles the beak of a bird of prey with break and down turn at the bow. Tumblehome is back! The USS Coronado LCS-4 superstructure slopes inward sharply as the superstructure rises giving the ship a very marked tumblehome. However, unlike the tumblehome of French predreadnought battleships, this new reincarnation of a classic naval architectural design characteristic, this tumblehome is not with seductive curves but with sharp angles needed to reduce the radar signature.

Other Sprues & Parts
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Along the hull sides are closed circular windows and square windows with shutters. These could be opened when necessary but closed to reduce radar return, as open portholes would reflect a radar pulse more readily. At the stern are open roll on/roll off doors to embark and disembark vehicles. A small alcove for a life raft canister fitting is just aft of the Ro-Ro door. A separate Ro-Ro ramp is included so the modeler has the option of modeling Coronado at sea or loading/landing vehicles. At the top of the superstructure is a row of navigation windows for the bridge. In looking at the plan view the forecastle appears to have some type of loading position raised above the deck. There are a couple of additional square fittings and the locator hole for the 57mm mount. There is a bow anchor well at the top of the centerline cutwater, as this design actually has three cutwaters. The crown of the superstructure has more of the small square fittings, a locator well for the exhaust structure and a well for the CIWS mount. The aft half of the deck is the broad flight deck spanning all three of the hulls. More of the square fittings run along the deck edge. The lower hulls slant inward as they run to the waterline, further enhancing the remarkable appearance of this vessel. With either hull the very thin outrigger hulls is evident. The full hull lower hull also makes the design remarkable. The forefoot juts forward like a Habsburg chin with thruster wells on each side. The hull pieces for Coronado are the same as used in Independence .

Brass Photo-Etch Frets
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Four plastic sprues are included, which is two more than came with the CyberHobby Independence . Unlike the Independence kit in which only a few generic parts were used off of one of the sprues, all of the parts on the four Coronado sprues are used in assembly. All of the parts of sprue C are used, as this is the ship specific sprue not a generic modern USN weapons and equipment sprue. This same sprue was found in the CyberHobby Independence. The aft face of the superstructure contains the hangar doors. Dragon has included the option to have the doors open or closed. If you model the hangar as open, then there is a separate hangar floor that fits into the upper hull. On the edges of the hangar face are detailed closed personnel access doors. The front face of the superstructure is also a separate piece and features a single access door offset to the starboard an excellent bridge windows. Atop the superstructure is the shrouded exhaust structure. This structure also slopes inward as it rises with exhaust vented through louvers. The outlines of the louver fittings are present but not the louver detail. The 2nd largest piece, after the hangar floor is the transom stern. Since it spans all three hulls, it is wide. The stern juts rearward as it rises from the waterline. On the centerline, over the middle hull, is another vehicle/cargo loading opening but instead of having downward folding loading ramps like the side doors, it has two doors that swing outwards. Again Dragon has provided optional parts to depict the doors as open or closed.

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Among the smaller parts there are a host of unique items such as the 57mm gun mount that has an almost triangular appearance. The barrel itself has a hollow muzzle, which is unheard of with 1:700 scale plastic barrels, especially a barrel as small as a 57mm. The SeaRAM launcher is another fine piece with the missile canister openings. The sole bow anchor is also unique as it fits within the bow well. Other fittings include the life raft canister fittings, flight deck lamp fittings, bow thruster shrouds, four port stern thruster piece, mast assembly, and radar/commo domes. Three new sprues are included with the Coronado kit. With the Independence kit a generic modern USN sprue was included solely for the purpose of providing a MH-60S helicopter. Instead of providing a MH-60S, a separate sprue provides a MH-53E helicopter, a larger beast than the MH-60S. This sprue, labeled G, carries only helicopter parts. Has 13 plastic parts for one 1:700 scale helicopter. Six of the fifteen parts are just for the well detailed fuselage. Then you throw in two rotors, a tail stabilizer, three wheels and a fuel probe and you come up with a kit within a kit. But wait!! There’s more!! This listing doesn’t even include the optional brass parts for the MH-53E included on a new brass photo-etch fret included in Coronado . There is also is a new sprue F, which provides a MQ-8 small drone helicopter. The plastic sprue only has the two halves of the fuselage, as the rest of parts come in brass photo-etch. The third new sprue, labeled H, includes a MK-105. The MK-105 is a magnetic mine sweeping sled, which can be towed by the large MH-53E helicopter. Besides the stand parts, one additional part is included, an optional MK 41 VLS deck lid.

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The Cyber-Hobby Coronado includes two brass photo-etch frets, instead of one fret found in Independence . They are relief-etched. The fret common with the one in the Independence fret is dominated by the flight deck edge safety netting. Other brass parts include curved bulkheads used at the edge of the hangar and hull, a forecastle fitting of some sort, CIWS forward face, Ro-Ro door fitting and railing for the small open alcoves on each side of the stern. The new second photo-etch fret provides details for the two helicopters and the sled. For the MH-53E is an alternate brass main rotor, an alternate brass tail rotor, a sled tow bar, a tail skid, and two small probes. The MQ-8 drone gets a brass main rotor, tail rotor and landing skid. The MK-105 skid gets four hydrofoil legs in two different patterns and a top brace/gantry. A full decal sheet is also included. The sheet includes flight deck markings, forecastle anti-skid walkways, helicopter markings, hull numbers, and multiple draught markings.

Dragon provides their standard fold out sheet of instructions. One back-printed sheet fold to provide six pages. Page one is a parts laydown. Page two has assembly of the bridge, CIWS, flight deck bulkhead, forward turret and life canister assemblies. Page three has assembly for forward superstructure, aft superstructure and transom stern. Page four has lower hull assembly, flight deck detail and stand. Page five covers the assembly of the three smaller craft included in the Coronado kit, the MH-53E, MQ-8 and MK-105. Page six has the profile, plan, bow and stern views with painting instructions and decal locator guide.

Box Art
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The CyberHobby/Dragon 1:700 scale kit of USS Coronado LCS-4 is not just a replay of their USS Independence LCS-2 kit. Yes, most of the parts are identical with those provided in the Independence kit, but also there are three new plastic sprues and a second photo-etch fret that provide detailed miniature models of new equipment such as the MH-53E heavy helicopter, MQ-8 drone helicopter and MK-105 aerially towed anti-mine sled.