Fixing the LCS Program
Charles W. Robinson, writing the following commentary in Defense News, is president of M Ship Co., builders of the radical Stiletto boat. Just wanted to clear that up as I post Mr Robinson’s proposal here to fix the troubled littoral combat ship program which, because of various setbacks, is giving us too few examples of what is probably the wrong ship for our needs. First is the examination how the LCS went from a true shallow water combat vessel called “Streetfighter” to a blue water hybrid frigate:
The Navy assumed responsibility for developing the LCS with active defense industry involvement. Unfortunately, the Navy expanded the core capabilities of the LCS to focus primarily on “blue-water” naval missions. It is difficult for the Navy to move far from the large-displacement vessels that have proved successful in blue-water conflicts over the past two centuries. The net result of this joint Navy/industry effort, the LCS, is a costly, reduced-size frigate with amazing new technological systems – an important advance for conflicts in the blue water.
However, to achieve this, the original mission capabilities for brown-water conflicts have been sacrificed.
In other words, it has become the worst of both worlds, not really suited for the littorals because of its 3000 tons and deep draft, and too underarmed for a true frigate. Obviously the Navy feared to take a chance on something radical and instead opted for something technically “transformational”, almost ensuring setbacks if history is a guide (the V-22 Osprey, the F-35 JSF, the Bradley fighting vehicles).
We simply cannot afford to send the LCS out to chase down small drug boats or piracy craft. For these missions and for coastal mine clearance and defense against irregular terrorist boat attacks near shore, we should revisit the original Street Fighter concept.
This called for many small, fast craft capable of sustainable speeds of well over 40 knots with reasonable fuel costs. This requires a planing hull. The Street Fighter should be truly shallow-draft (under 5 feet) to operate in the shoaled water used by fast drug boats. It also requires a low superstructure to be radar-stealthy, so as not to alert enemy craft and to avoid shore-based enemy fire control.
Is he proposing his company’s Stiletto boat? Sure sounds like it, as does this idea for a mothership to service the low endurance craft:
The brown-water Street Fighter cannot also be designed for effective performance in blue water, nor can it be sustained independently for extended periods in the target area. To counter these limitations, we urge testing of a littoral mission unit (LMU) by activating a military transport, the Cape Mendocino, which, with minor modifications, could transport four or more Street Fighters to areas of threat.
This vessel would also serve as their mother ship.
However the original Streetfighter was a small craft of at least 300 tons, which would still entail mothership support. Stiletto weighs in at only 60 tons though that is just the part on the water. There is much more than meets the eye, according to the M Ship website:
The Stiletto is a radical new hull platform that was developed for high-speed military missions in the shallow water areas of the littoral, near-shore waters in support of USN (ret) Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski’s vision of a “brown-water navy” for expeditionary combat in the 21st century. No other hull compares to its speed, ride quality, payload capability and unmanned vehicle support.
The Stiletto, a twin M-hull vessel, is 88 ft in length with a 40 ft beam, providing a rectangular deck area equivalent to a conventional displacement craft 160 ft in length. The vessel’s draft fully loaded is 3 feet and is designed for a speed of 50-60 knots.
160 ft is about the size of the USCG Sentinel class cutter of 353 tons. Obviously the M80 was conceived from the lessons of Streetfighter, but I believe more of the intent here was to fix a problem that needs addressing. The USS Freedom and USS Independence were well-meaning but ultimately flawed answers to an ongoing problem of fighting low tech threats in the littoral regions, a rising and still unaddressed menace to free maritime commerce, plus anti-smuggling efforts.
The LCS is flawed because the vessel has mostly blue water attributes kin to frigates, without the latter’s increased armament (like the $700 million Norwegian Nansen). It is from a Navy who has shown little interest in such matters of shallow water warfare even with the end of the blue water Soviet threat. From the quotes which I have been posting lately from the USN leadership however, it does sound like they are starting to pay closer attention to new maritime problems.
My conclusions on Mr Robinson’s commentary? Not sure if he is promoting his company’s product here or not. Even so, this is a welcome answer to solve an ongoing problem which is the need to get some type of littoral warship to the fleet, lots of them, and soon. It is also refreshing to hear someone from Industry praising the sensible Streetfighter solution for the Fleet’s current shipbuilding woes and presence deficit, something the Naval Blogosphere has been doing virtually alone for the past 10 years.
This is something we have postponed for 2 decades, and the threats to commerce, and our decreasing ability to control the sealanes is getting worse. We might excuse the 1990’s, a time of radical change after the Cold War. We might even grudgingly concede the Navy has been distracted by the War on Terror in the first decade of the 2000s. Now all excuses are past, as funds shrink and all eyes turn to the Navy to keep the peace in a new decade. Will they choose decline and irrelevance, or do they take the challenge head-on?