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LCS=Leathernecks Cruise to Shore

August 11, 2010

USS Stringham APD-6, was a fast transport from World War 2, converted from a 4-stacker destroyer.

Undersecretary of the Navy Robert (Bob) Work has a few ideas on how sustain the US Marine Corps in a era of new threats. What the other Bob is doing to the Defense Department as a whole, Work hopes to do for the Leathernecks, instilling in them a back to basics mentality unseen in decades. If carried through we may see the most complete transformation of the Corps in a century, and the change will be welcome. Here is Chris Cavas at Defense News with more:

“We’re turning our thinking to resetting the Corps – that’s the code word – and it has to do with what do we want the Marine Corps to look like once we’re out of Afghanistan and assuming there are no infantry battalions in sustained combat operations anywhere in the world,” Navy Undersecretary Bob Work told a lunchtime audience in Washington.

“The basis for this thinking is going to be a Force Structure Review Group (FSRG),” Work said…The study, Work added, will consider the requirements of major defense planning documents including the Quadrennial Defense Review, completed earlier this year, as well as incorporating “lessons the Marine Corps has learned over the last seven years of war.”

It is hopeful that the service is not just thinking beyond Afghanistan for its future, as sadly some have turned a blind eye to its lessons, but are incorporating the lessons learned there to project it into a new environment of diverse and hybrid threats, as I noted yesterday. Specifically, here are several points touched on in the study:

  1. The Marine Corps will “more reflect its naval character.”
  2. Marines will begin operating from a variety of new platforms like the Littoral Combat Ship and Joint High Speed Vessel.
  3. “The Equipment Density List will be higher than the pre-war EDL.”
  4. Increased reliance on unmanned systems.
  5. The future force will be more energy-efficient than today… including more reliance on solar power.
  6. Marine gear and vehicles will need to be lighter.
  7. The Corps… “will be capable of conducting amphibious assaults and joint forcible entry operations.”
  8. The Corps and the Navy have settled on a fleet of 33 amphibious ships, having deemed the “high-end requirement” of 38 ships unaffordable.

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USS Schmitt (APD-76) was a newer transport, converted from a Buckley-class destroyer escort.

The LCS statement was a very intriguing one, mentioned in this blog before. The idea of a fast attack transport like the old APD’s from the war years might not just give the Marines a fresh start, but breathe life into a very troubled and uncertain warship program. Being a large, shallow water vessel, the USS Freedom and her kin fit the requirements for “port to the beach“, which I think will the future of amphibious warfare in this age of the missile/suicide boat threat. Both of the latter are increasingly forcing the USMC to deploy their shrinking fleet of Big Ships further from shore, so I say we should take the “middleman” out of the equation altogether, scrapping the vulnerable offshore staging areas.

 The only reason such a large and expensive vessel of any type need be in the littorals, especially in a missile-rich environment, is to offload cargo and troops. Because of the LCS’ high speed it should be able to perform this task, in the shallow seas, avoiding trouble being desirable in a transport, not so in a warship. A 2008 Navy Times article discussed the possibility:

The Navy’s littoral combat ships could moonlight as members of the gator Navy under a proposal now in the works — the Marines want their own menu of mission modules for the LCS, in addition to the three sets of interchangeable gear now planned by the Navy. The Marines could get a surface fire support module, some kind of a special operations module and a humanitarian assistance mission package…An LCS draws only about 12 feet of water, a design feature specifically included by Navy planners so the ships could visit austere ports in South America or Africa.

Mercy missions, all well and good, but what about the primary Marine role of assault landings against a hostile shore? This is where they have really shined in times past, and I think most in and out of the service would like to see a return to this crucial mission. The LCS, fitted with the correct module, or heck just strap some landing craft on the sides and go from there. The vessel’s helicopters could also be loaded with troops or equipment as needed. A 2009  National Defense Magazine post also revealed thinking toward this goal:

Marines could deploy small units such as platoons or companies aboard an LCS, (chief of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Lt. Gen. George) Flynn said. “I have seen where you can drive on some amphibious craft on the back of at least one LCS,” he said.

The poorly armed transport would need some type of escort, which the Marines acknowledge. Are they talking corvette here?

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Thomas Benes, director of the Navy’s expeditionary warfare division, said there is a need for boats that are larger than the riverine units’ 40-foot boats but smaller than the 400-foot littoral combat ship. The Navy does not have such a vessel in its inventory. In the Persian Gulf, U.S. warships have been targeted by suicide bombers in fishing boats and threatened by Iranian speedboats. “It’s obvious you need some smaller boat to be able to patrol that area,” Benes said. “We’re taking that on.”

Glad to see its not just me saying this! Back to the LCS, what type troops would it exactly carry? For this we go back even further, to a 2007 quote from Information Dissemination:

Robert Work of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Studies discussed this option for the LCS a few years go. In his discussions with both General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin, at the time he made the argument that if you had one of each ship you could fully support the deployment and sustainment of a single reinforced mechanized rifle company.

Obviously, Bob just didn’t speak off the cuff in the recent study, but has been thinking along these lines for some time!

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. Brian Tobler permalink
    February 8, 2012 3:21 pm

    Not sure I havent lost some of the finer points regarding this discussion but I have to disagree with a couple of points. I agree with the 8 poionts touched in the studty completely. However I have to disagree with any notion the LCS would be a general answer to the Marines requirement. Yes the LCS could operate much like the destyoyer’s in WWII and bring Marines in proximity to shore and launch “raiders”. However I would not for a minute state that there will not be a Marine Battalion that would require a forceable entry operation. We’ve seen time and again over the years that the MEU’s of the 80’s and 90’s provided great flexibility to the commander. Whether it be humanitarian or otherwise the basic MAGTF works and works well. As noted the Equipment Density List (EDL) alone would require a no kidding real amphibious ship. There are lots of answers for a raider platform. Few for a real amphibious solution for the Marines for “forceable” entry. Which again I have to say will happen and is a requirement.

  2. Heretic permalink
    August 13, 2010 9:26 am

    At the risk of repeating myself, Mike …

    We don’t exactly expect our infantry forces to organize themselves that way any more for a beach assault.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 12, 2010 6:26 pm

    Heretic, in the world wars we did this ALL the time, in much smaller vessels of 2000 tons or less, converted from destroyer escorts. Not every mission involves storming a contested beachhead, and I’m struggling to remember the last one the USMC was involved in.

  4. Heretic permalink
    August 12, 2010 10:12 am

    Unless you’re planning to offload your marine raiding party at a pier dock with at least a 4-5m draft under keel, the LCS can’t “land” anything short of beaching itself or using its helicopter as a troop transport. And even then, the accomodations aboard are so cramped that you can’t get more than a USMC platoon aboard … and forget about being able to beach land their heavy equipment from an LCS. And the LCS is woefully underarmed if it comes to a question of NGFS covering fire for a beach landing involving any opposition.

    Talk about the purest of fantasies. This is wishing that the LCS was a tin (aluminum, for LCS-2?) can which could ferry marines who climb down nets over the sides into waiting landing craft to arrive at Omaha Beach. We don’t exactly expect our infantry forces to organize themselves that way any more for a beach assault.

  5. leesea permalink
    August 11, 2010 9:04 pm

    Mike you need to step back from the fantasy that the LCS can support anything other than a small raiding party of Marines. LCS are NOT capabale of discharging Marine tactical equipment. LCS1 does NOT have the payload available to support more that some extras boats (CRRCs) and a couple of helos might be squeezed into its hangar? Jed and Bsmitty are right.

    BTW the LCS is NOT capable of oceanic passages when loaded. So the only real movement the LCS might participate in is OMFTS along the coasts. In which environment it is distinctly under-armed and a BIG DAMN TARGET. I would also point out that the JHSV can carry more troops and vehicles AND unload them than can either LCS.

    The key points you note which require further discussion are these: “amphibious assaults and joint forcible entry operations”. Bob Work is talking about redefining the scale of the former and linking the Marines and Army in the later. I think both are good topics for discussion. You can lead by going back to WW2 history and reporting on how MUCH coopearation there was between the two services especially in the Pacific.

  6. August 11, 2010 5:58 pm

    voqmoH!!! (Semper fi!)

  7. Juramentado permalink
    August 11, 2010 5:32 pm

    Klingons have better table manners than most marines…………

    vam ‘oH wIj nISwI’ bej, vam ‘oH wIj nISwI’ HIch. vam ‘oH vaD Daq Suv vam ‘oH vaD Quch!

    This is my (disruptor) rifle, this is my (disruptor pistol) gun. This is for fighting, this is for fun!

    Source: Klingon Language Version (KLV) History

  8. August 11, 2010 4:47 pm

    Klingons have better table manners than most marines…………

  9. Heretic permalink
    August 11, 2010 3:51 pm

    B.Smitty … haven’t you ever watched STAR TREK …?

  10. August 11, 2010 3:50 pm

    @ Ken (et. al)

    A few long time readers here will know that when I write “airship”, I do NOT mean “blimp”. Blimps are limpbiz bags; slow, flimsy, cumbersome. Bleah!
    No, we mean AirSHIPS. Constructed of solid rigid high strength materials; fast, amphibious.
    Re: thermobaric warhead….won’t work in a helium atmosphere. In any case, proper airships are compartmentalized, so even losing one compartment of lifting gas isn’t catastrophic. Simply dump ballast to compensate.
    “Jarhead mamaship”??? That’s the point of using airships…NO other support vessel needed.
    Fly a Cessna and chuck grenades at the airships? Awwww..nope, no more than bad guys can do so to helicopters. (operated properly, the airship would be ARMED, of course; or, have attendant escort)

    Airships are far, far, far more “surviveable” than most realize; (lots of reasons why…covered at my own site rather than great details here at Mikes’ place)

  11. B.Smitty permalink
    August 11, 2010 3:09 pm

    How does either LCS or FSF-1 put Marines on the beach? RHIB? CRRC?

  12. Juramentado permalink
    August 11, 2010 2:26 pm

    Mission: Deliver Marines to a beach
    Bonus Point: Lowest Possible Risk
    Bonus Point: Highest Probability Of Success

    LCS-2 (the good one!) vs FSF-1

    Round One … FIGHT!

    While the questionable combatants duke it out, an aging but servicable AAV7 delivers the first two squads to the beach. Game over. Next?

  13. Heretic permalink
    August 11, 2010 12:18 pm

    Mission: Deliver Marines to a beach
    Bonus Point: Lowest Possible Risk
    Bonus Point: Highest Probability Of Success

    LCS-2 (the good one!) vs FSF-1

    Round One … FIGHT!

  14. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 11, 2010 11:32 am

    “once again LCS is being shoehorned into a role it was not designed for, and probably wont be any good at.”

    Don’t get me wrong. This is NOT a call for continuing production of this entirely flawed concept, just a resignation for making the best of a design which we are likely stuck with for the remainder of the new decade. Hopefully then, LCS production will quietly fade away, even as the traditional frigate which is its basis is replaced by smaller vessels more suitable to littoral operations, and also able to be purchased in adequate numbers without busting your budget.

    I expect no more than 20 to be built, 30 tops and that would be a stretch.

    Hokie asked “a completely unsurvivable little crappy ship and load it full of Marines?”

    That pretty much sums up all troop transports, right? The nature of the beast. As a warship, you expect it to stand and fight. I say use it in an auxiliary role, avoiding trouble as much as possible, since like Hokie says it isn’t survivable anyway.

    True, Ken, 50 knots can’t outrun a missile, but neither can it outrun a jet. Did the jet cause the obsolescence of all warships? Not yet, so the extra speed means it should get away from land bases where are the launchers are ASAP.

  15. Juramentado permalink
    August 11, 2010 11:01 am

    I can see the Corps using LCS as a raider and special missions asset. Integration into a traditional amphibious landing – well, it can’t carry a company size unit and attachments, so it doesn’t seem to make sense that way. Platoon size deliveries was really meant for pairs of EFVs (or their replacement) anyway.

    If the intent is to deliver SOF troops, this was considered as part of the original CONOPS (which ADM Harvey has since jettisoned). There is habitability for up to a 50-person unit and attached assets such as RHIBs and helos. The NGS option will likely be from the winner of the MR SSM bid to replace NLOS. As it is, all three Mission Packages are behind schedule; unless the Corps is willing to pitch in to develop their own MP, I don’t see PEOSHIPS LMW bending over backwards to make room for yet another requirement such as mobile artillery/rockets/mortars.

    There’s a lot of disdain for the “fast” aspect of the LCS, but this is one role where it’s quite useful. Delivery of SOF is always time-sensitive; you need to get them in there quickly and quietly, but preferably quickly since the need is usually paramount. Barring delivery by helo, getting them there via surface craft is pretty reasonable, and on egress – you want every mile you can possibly get between you and the enemy’s reaction force to pass soonest. At 50kts, that’s pretty good.

  16. Ken permalink
    August 11, 2010 10:50 am

    PS that makes the LCS idea look kinda sensible after all.

  17. Ken permalink
    August 11, 2010 10:49 am

    Gotta say 50 knots won’t get you out of trouble if the trouble is a missile. Being twice as fast as ‘real slow’ still ain’t all that fast!

    But, airships? I don’t like the idea of something carrying 200 tons that can be taken out by a single thermobaric RGP7 warhead. Maybe great for parachuting people into Afghanistan silently. Terrible choice for that contested 200 miles of water and beachfront from the Jarhead mamaship.

    Man, in a blimp, the bad guys could wreak havoc just by getting up in a cessna and throwing grenades at ya’ll.

  18. August 11, 2010 10:27 am

    When DARPA begain “Walrus” airship program, they were looking towards giant airships to carry 1,000 tons. To big a reach.

    But, as Marines are considering deploying smaller units (company size), it puts an entirely new spin on the use of airships. USS Macon and USS Akron could carry 100 ton payloads. Modern airships could easily carry 2-3 times as much. Airships could therefore deliver entire battalion of Marines to ANY point on the globe, self deployed from CONUS. within 72 hours.

    Note the increased dependence on using solar energy as written above; airships can fly using nothing but solar power; giving them unlimited range.

  19. Jed permalink
    August 11, 2010 9:26 am

    LOL, once again LCS is being shoehorned into a role it was not designed for, and probably wont be any good at. Mmmmm’ let me see, what existing, off the shelf, foreign desigend ship might actually fit this role – why the Absalon of course….

    Two SH60 helo, two SCR90E fast boats for getting real close inshore or up rivers, 4 RHIB’s, plenty of options for an embarked Platoon, or if you want to utilize that ‘flex deck’ for acoommodation, I beleive ‘hotel services’ are sized to carry an additional 100 troops ?
    Perhaps some cheap as chips BVS10 or Singaporean Bronco’s on the flex deck if you want amphibous armour (well cheap compared to the current project). A 5 inch gun for NGS (yes, less than ideal, but way better than 57mm !), room for ESSM, SeaRAM etc, and if you dont’ feel the need to carry 16 x Harpoon’s you could mount something else which could be more useful ……. ahhh, but it will never happen because it’s not American and its not sleek and sexy looking and can’t do 45kts :-)

  20. Hokie_1997 permalink
    August 11, 2010 8:24 am

    Mike,

    This strikes me as a horrible idea, and emblematic of the LCS program in general, which is trying to put an overpriced round peg in square hole.

    We’re going to take a completely unsurvivable little crappy ship and load it full of Marines? And somehow that is going to solve our problems with forcible entry?

    45 kts is neat. It makes a really sexy wake. But it’s not fast enough to outrun a fighter, maritime patrol aircraft, helicopter, or anti-ship cruise missile.

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