USS Freedom LCS-1
The Littoral Combat Ship is the Navy’s latest controversial shipbuilding program. What was originally designed to be a winner-take-all competition is now a ship construction program with two distinct classes. The LCS-1 USS Freedom Class is a more traditionally designed mono-hull, while the LCS-2 USS Independence Class is the trimaran hull form. Those of us with longer memories remember how controversial the Spruance and Oliver Hazard Perry classes were when they were under construction and during their early service – both were designed to be manned with smaller crews and the ships were delivered before their major weapons systems were ready: Harpoon, Sea Sparrow, SLQ-32, CIWS, and LAMPS Mk III. The LCS program is in a similar position; the hulls are delivered with small crews and without the mission modules, which are lagging the hull production. Many observers question the viability of the program.
The way the LCS vessels are designed, there is a basic “seaframe” that has the base crew and basic weapons systems. The ship does not reach its full capability until a Mission Module is installed to complete a mission package. A MP consists of Mission Modules with Mission Crew and Support Aircraft. Mission Modules combine Mission Systems (vehicles, sensors, weapons) and support equipment that is install into the seaframe via standard interfaces. Mission modules are standardized around warfare missions. They load into the ship in various areas, including: the hangar, the mission bay, and “hard points.” On LCS-1, these two “hard points” are rectangular boxes in the aft superstructure aft of the SRBOC tubes. Mission Modules include mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and surface warfare.
This release by Cyber-Hobby (Dragon) follows Cyber-Hobby’s earlier kitting of the USS Independence LCS-2. Ironically, LCS-1 was the first ship delivered, but not the first kit produced; I guess that the unique form of LCS-2 was more interesting. Trumpeter has also released kits of LCS-1 and LCS-2, but these are different moldings; the big difference is Dragon’s use of slide mold technology.
During this review, I did extensive research to see for myself how accurate the kit is in comparison to available photos and drawings. I was only able to turn up one set of drawings on https://www.the-blueprints.com. These look pretty accurate and may be from an LCS program presentation. Using a search engine, I turned up good number of exterior photos but few interior shots. But lo and behold, LCS-1 has a Facebook page which has a wealth of interior photos, including the mission bay and helicopter hangar, taken during ceremonies and special events. With all of these references, I was able to do a close comparison of the kit to the real ship and bottom line, the kit holds up very well to the available drawings and photos.
Like other recent Cyber-Hobby and Dragon releases, this is a multi-media release and includes a photo etch fret. The first thing that struck me when I opened the box was how big the box was in comparison to the model. For a small ship, there is a high parts count, with many details finely molded in multiple parts. The hull parts, base and main superstructure section, are provided off sprues. There are 12 sprues of varying sizes for the rest of the parts with 7 of the sprues used to build up the two H-60 helicopters and 3 Fire Scout UAVs. In addition to the plastic, Cyber-Hobby includes a 10 cm x 14 cm PE fret. There is also a small decal sheet which includes the flight deck markings, hull numbers, aircraft markings, and the national ensign.
The plastic is as we have come to expect from Dragon’s latest kits, with slide mold technology. Particularly impressive is the single-cast main superstructure with its crisp detail. With other companies and with older kits, this assembly would have been built up from separate bulkheads – in this case, it ensures that the modeler has the bulkhead angles correct. I also like the fact that the deck fitting are not molded to the deck. This guarantees that they are properly sized and subtle in detail. The hangar doors, side port door, and stern doors are separate pieces and can be modeled open. For the most part, the interior detail is minimal and only representational. However, the molding allows the modeler to detail theses interior areas without major surgery. Another nice touch is that the kit provide optional parts for the hull modifications made to LCS-1 following observations made during trials. These are hull extensions on either side of the stern door which are designed to increase reserve buoyance and, therefore, ship’s stability in the event of damage.
Some additional plastic detail highlights:
- Nice detail on the inside of the stern doors
- The RAM launcher and SRBOC launchers are made up from multiple parts
- Flight deck detail is very accurate but markings are raised
- The mast is a small kit in itself
- The helicopters are also small kits
- The kit includes all of the installed SATCOM antennas
- .50 cal Machine guns (with gun shields – replace with a PE 20mm shield)
- Detailed pump jets
- A nice base with injection molded finials
While the hull detail is adequate, I would have liked to have seen better representation of the sea chest opening that feed water to the pump jet propulsion. The other detail that is noticeably absent is the refueling receiver that’s mounts on the deck below the 30mm turrets (C22).
PE Fret includes:
- Helicopter blades, spread or folded, and the main rotor hub
- Fire Scout UAS blades
- Fire Scout skids
- Bridge window wipers
- A mast ladder
- Whip antennas (replace with fine wire)
- An etched name place in English and Chinese
There are some issues with the kit that may not be readily apparent. As provided in the box, the kit is a mix of Mission Modules. The kit has most of the basics for the Surface Warfare Mission Module – H-60 helicopter, Fire Scout UAVs, two rigid-hull inflatable boats in the mission bay. and the 30mm Bushmaster guns installed in the aft superstructure. The base of the gun mount is molded to the aft superstructure and all you add are the turrets (parts C-22). The H-60 helicopter provided is an MH-60S which is used for the Mine Warfare Mission Module. The Surface Warfare mission uses the MH-60R (follow-on to the SH-60B) with its mid-fuselage tail wheel and large forward radome. If you have the Cyberhobby LCS-2 kit, it provides the MH-60R, so all you need to do is swap helos. I this scale, an SH-60B is indistinguishable from the MH-60R and could be substituted. Currently, Mission Modules are not mixed. If you want to represent a different mission module, surgery will be required to remove the 30mm guns. If these guns are not installed, a flush cover would fit over the opening. You will need to create the other required systems. So an LCS-1 with a Surface Warfare mission package is the easiest path.
Frustratingly, the painting guide for the hull is incorrect. Cyber-Hobby has you paint the entire underwater hull black, when in fact it is hull red with a traditional black boot topping. Also, Cyber-Hobby draws a stranger water line that curves upward following the upper chine (the ships complex hull has two chines), rather than being straight. The hull break between the upper and lower hull is at the waterline and is a good reference point.
Also of note, LCS-1 has evolved in its relatively short life as problems are corrected on this lead ship of its type. In fact, LCS-3 is noticeably different than LCS-1 and cannot be built from this kit without significant surgery. External differences include a longer hull, raised anchor hawse, a third system “hard point” in the superstructure, and revision to the electronics suite.
All in all, this is a very nice kit and a detailed representation of LCS-1. It is the preferred of the two available kits and will build into a nice model of the vessel. If you have an interest in modern ships, this is a must for your collection.
I would like to thank Dragon Models USA for the kit and IPMS/USA for the review space.