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The Israel Navy inched a step closer to receiving a next-generation coastguard vessel over the weekend when Lockheed Martin launched the USS Freedom, which is slated to join the US Navy, at the Marinette Marine Shipyard in Wisconsin.
"It comes none too soon," said US Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael G. Mullen of the 115-meter Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). "Because there are tough challenges out there that only she can handle."
Designed for speed, maneuverability and amphibious operations, the LCS was developed by Lockheed Martin according to US Naval specifications to operate as a "brown-water" ship in shallow coastal waters and where there are combined threats from land and sea.
The Israel Navy has ordered a $5 million feasibility study from Lockheed Martin to see whether the ship meets Israel's needs and can be integrated with Israeli-manufactured technological defense systems.
In contrast to the resistance Israel has encountered to its demand to install Israeli-made systems on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter now under development for the US Air Force, the navy received approval for adding blue-and-white technology to the LCS before ordering the study.
OC Navy Adm. David Ben-Bashat has asked the General Staff to approve the procurement of two LCS-class ships at a cost of several hundred million dollars per vessel. Ben-Bashat is waiting for Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz to convene a meeting of top IDF brass to make decisions on future acquisitions.
Defense sources said that while the navy needed new vessels, the recent closing of a $1.27 billion deal to buy two submarines from Germany might prompt generals to vote against spending hundreds of millions on the navy so soon. The sources stressed, however, that just like the IAF, the navy needed to remain at the forefront in its field in the Middle East. The Israel Navy's newest warships are the Sa'ar V-class missile boats, purchased in the nineties. One of them, the INS Hanit, was attacked by Hizbullah with an Iranian version of the Chinese YJ-82 missile on July 14 while enforcing a blockade off Beirut.
The Freedom was launched on Saturday before an audience of thousands who lined both sides of the Menominee River, which divides the states of Wisconsin and Michigan. "This is a rewarding day for the entire LCS team and signifies a major milestone in the LCS program," said Fred Moosally, president of Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors. "We are proud to be the team bringing Freedom to the US Navy fleet."
The ship is capable of carrying midsize vehicles and two helicopters. An Israeli LCS would also be provided with the Barak anti-missile defense system.