Sept. 9 (UPI) -- A U.S. Navy littoral combat ship, carrying the new Naval Strike Missile capable of sinking a ship, deployed to the Pacific Ocean last week.
The USS Gabrielle Giffords left San Diego on Tuesday, a relatively small vessel built for shallow-water maneuverability but carrying missiles noted for precision, quick enemy detection and a range of over 100 nautical miles. A similarly equipped LCS, the USS Montgomery, was deployed to the Pacific Fleet in June. The missiles transform the ships from under-armed to a legitimate threat to warships, notably those of China.
A Navy official said only that the USS Gabrielle Giffords is deploying to the Indo-Pacific theater. The USS Montgomery is currently in the Gulf of Thailand, and a third LCS is expected to join them in the Pacific.
The armaments include the Naval Strike Missile and the MQ-8C Fire Scout drone. When combined, they can destroy an over-the-horizon target at 100 nautical miles, further than the 67 nautical miles of the Harpoon missile, the Navy's current anti-ship missile. The Navy is installing the weapons on all LCS currently under construction. The USS Gabrielle Giffords, commissioned in 2017, was retrofit with the missiles and drones.
"That's a game-changer for LCS. They still have their mission. They still have their focused mission and all the things that they're going to do in the surface warfare world," said Rear Adm. Casey Moulton, "But now, every LCS that's out there can't be ignored."
Having the missiles aboard LCSs "immensely complicates any potential adversary's fighting problem," he added.
The ships' deployment to what is essentially China's sphere of interest is a sign that the U.S. Navy is gradually increasing its power and presence in the Pacific Ocean. Tensions have been rising over China's maritime claims, enforced by its military branches. The Navy has accelerated its freedom-of-navigation demonstrations, in which ships sail within 12 miles of a Chinese-claimed territory to demonstrate that maritime law allows it. The U.S. Navy's plans to have 35 LCS will make the vessel a large part of its surface fleet; 17, in various configurations, have been delivered.
A Navy timeline indicates that all its LCSs will be equipped with the over-the-horizon missile, a Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program, the Nulka MK 53 Decoy Launching System, improvements to the 57mm gun through installation of the Mk 48 Mod II Gun Weapon Control System, either retrofit or installed at construction, by 2022.