USS Fort Worth (LCS-3)
Updated: Jun 6, 2022
Now that I have decided to build the modern U.S. Naval fleet in 1/700 scale, the natural question is: where to start? I could choose the ship in my collection that I am most eager to build, currently a close call between USS New York (LPD-21 ) and USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7), or stick to a more "calculated" choice and go with Dragon's USS Fort Worth (LCS-3). Given the title of this post, I think you know where I ended up, and now, here's why.
USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), a Freedom Class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is a monohull (unlike her trimaran LCS cousins of the Independence Class) with a few guns and a typical superstructure. Toss in a few photo-etch parts for good measure and this kit will allow me to stress-test my modeling skills before I get to more complicated subjects.
Don't let me forget about that box-art depicting a standard navy paint scheme. Perfect, I'll be "haze grey and underway" in no time...
...no time at all!
Editor's note: Choose your own content! Either continue reading for the ship's background or click here to be taken to the kit build.
Littoral Combat Ships: Freedom Class
The Freedom Class is one of two LCS-class ships (don't worry, we will get to the Independence Class in a future post). As of January 2021, there are 10 Freedom Class vessels in commission with the U.S. Navy, and a further 6 more are either fitting out, under construction, or on order. Our modeling subject, the USS Fort Worth, is the second ship in the Freedom Class, and was laid down by Marinette Marine in Wisconsin on July 11, 2009, launched on December 4, 2010, and commissioned August 6, 2012. She is named after the city of Fort Worth in Texas.
The driving concept behind LCS was to create a small, inexpensive, and flexible class of warship to operate in the littorals (close to shore). They would be used to fulfill a variety of missions via mission packages that included anti-submarine warfare ("ASW"), mine countermeasure ("MCM"), and surface warfare ("SUW"), while also playing host to special operations forces.
The Freedom Class is indeed small. As compared to other ships in my modern fleet series, Freedom Class has the smallest tonnage, length, and draft.
In regards to cost, the LCS classes of ships have a complex history of overruns and budgetary issues. Originally envisioned as a ship costing on the order of $250 million, the USS Fort Worth was cancelled in 2007 after its predecessor's costs soared approximately 50%. Fort Worth was not re-authorized until 2009 at an approximate cost of $350 million! Editor's note: budgetary figures are notoriously difficult to pin down and often times exclude certain significant components such as onboard systems and weapons. Therefore, take these figures as a general indication of how program costs went out of control.
One of the drivers of overall program cost overruns was the failure of the mission package and their various mission modules. Mission modules were envisioned as part of a package that could be swapped in and out of a ship within hours or days, and importantly, were to be operated by the same crew. Think of the flexibility a commander would have if one day a ship is a minesweeper and the next it was sub-hunting! Due to the loss of this flexibility, each LCS is designated a relatively fixed portion of the overall mission set they were originally intended for. As for LCS-3 she has been involved with the testing of the SUW mission package and was recently outfitted with the ASW module for testing.
Now comes the truly awkward part about building the Fort Worth and using her to springboard my modern ship series: she is scheduled to be decommission in March of 2021! That's right, after only 8 years of commissioned service, she will be retired. Primarily due to the procurement process known as concurrency (the dirtiest word in the Navy for the last decade), Fort Worth is actually of a dissimilar design relative to subsequent members of the class. Under concurrency, shipbuilding begins quickly with the assumption that computer testing, rather than physical testing, will lead to near-final designs. Once physical testing takes place, minor modifications can be retrofitted. The bet is that more savings are generated from a reduced design and build time than the costs incurred for fixes. However, so drastic were the 1) design deficiencies and 2) changes in build specifications during construction, that the Navy has determined it will be too expensive to bring the vessel up to an adequate operational standard. Simply put, per the Navy, it is cheaper to retire the Fort Worth.
With this background in mind, commencing my modern naval fleet construction with a ship that is soon-to-be retired may be unintuitive. But as already mentioned, I was going for something that would approximate an easy modeling build (clearly there was trouble building the 1/1 scale one) and still be representative of commissioned ships.
"What is this? A ship for ants!"
When I opened up the box, I was greeted by crisp molds and well detailed parts. I was also surprised by how few parts there were. That is, until I looked closer! I knew that a 1/700 scale ship was going to require some degree of tedious work, but this kit included the smallest pieces I have ever seen. Just have a look at the first photo, the scrap pieces of plastic are bigger than the parts!
The small parts made for some tricky assembly. In the next picture you can see that I decided to glue, the mast, radars, and communications gear to the main superstructure while it was still attached to its sprue.
One of the key build order decisions was to assemble the entire ship before painting. I reasoned that the relatively clean lines, thanks to a ship design that incorporated stealth technology, would make for easy overall painting. More complicated superstructures, like those found on Ticonderoga Class cruisers, may require some revisions to this thought.
Have a look at this photo of Fort Worth underway. Now scroll up to the box art again. See a difference?
When I set out to build this kit, I did so under the guise that the painting would be easy. I failed to do much research on the subject beforehand. Had I, I would have seen that Fort Worth has carried a variety of paint schemes while in service, including the haze grey scheme as shown on the box. But, upon seeing the dazzle camouflage I knew I had to attempt it! It just looked too cool to pass up.
The first step in replicating the scheme was to make a set of paint chips. I needed to find varying shades of grey through black, that when combined, would contrast enough to approximate the dazzle scheme. Surprisingly, this task was rather difficult. Nearly every photo of the actual ship shows different shades of greys due to camera angles, angle of the sun, time of day, and time since a fresh coat of paint.
Once I settled on a set of colors I decided to apply them from lightest to darkest. You can see in the middle photo how much masking (and time!) was required to get each layer painted on. A note for the aspiring modelers, there are two different types of tape being used. One is standard blue painters tape, and the other is Tamiya's Masking Tape for Curves. I had never used the latter before, but it proved invaluable because it was, just as its name implies, able to conform to the ship's curves extremely well.
Preparing for Launch
When the slog of painting the dazzle scheme was over, it was time to paint details. Rather than research the specific colors that each antenna and blister on the superstructure should be, I simply presented my artistic license to the modeling gods and carried on. A coat of Pledge Floor Gloss was applied, followed by the decals, and a second coat of Pledge.
Some ship modelers would have stopped their build here: a freshly painted hull that looks ready for a parade. However, I wanted to try and bring out a bit more detail in the ship and also add a touch of weathering.
To bring out detail, I used the now-familiar-but-still-can't-get-quite-right panel lining technique with Tamiya's Panel Liners. Simply apply a very thin contrasting-color of enamel-based paint (I mixed the black and grey ones to form a dark grey) to the recesses of the model and let capillary action do the rest. Then after it has partially dried, wipe up the excess with mineral spirits and cotton buds.
For weathering I used Tamiya's Weathering Master sets to add a bit of oil stains to the flight deck, soot to exhaust ports, and rust to various parts of the ship.
I ran into a similar problem for both the panel-lining and the application of rust. The ship is too small, or, the cotton buds and weathering master applicator are too large! Either way, I was not able to get the level of precision that I wanted. Editor's note: I did some research and found that Tamiya makes some precision cotton buds that come in shapes and sizes better suited for use on a 1/700 scale ship than the generic cotton buds I used. They also claim to be more resistant to fraying. Given how well their curved tape worked, I am inclined to try their modeler-specific cotton buds on the next ship project.
Back in Port
Well, here we are! USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) looking slightly worn after her first cruise. Let me know what you think in the comments.
This was my first time building in 1/700 scale and overall I will call it a success! Here are some of my observations:
It is an understatement to say how surprised I was by how tiny the parts were. This is a real credit to Dragon Models. By working carefully, I was able to get them all in place and avoid breaking any or losing any to the carpet monster.
Now that I am well rested, I am happy that I took on the challenge of the dazzle camouflage. I think it came out really well and it will make this ship stand out from future builds. It might not be something I hope to paint often (it is tedious!), but it is nice to know I am capable of it should the need arise.
I will need to work on the weathering and look to incorporate more precise techniques and/or tools. After all, in this scale, a 1mm marking is equivalent to 700mm (in American, that's more than 2 feet!).
In closing, this build was a little more challenging than I thought it would be. However, by remaining patient and working diligently, I came out with something I am proud to show off.
Time to lay out the next set of keel blocks!
Thanks for reading,
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